President Aquino knows the padrinos (patrons) of Bureau of Customs (BOC) personnel linked to smuggling and should do something about it, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said Tuesday.
Trillanes said the President knew the personalities behind the corruption in the BOC and that he was just waiting for what the Chief Executive was going to do about it “based on what he knows.”
“You already expressed your frustration. Now, we’re waiting for what you would do to address this frustration,” said Trillanes, a former Navy officer.
Retired Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani said the “shadowy figures” who protected corrupt officials in the BOC should be exposed.
“Expose them to the light,” Bacani said in an interview. “The problem at BOC runs deep and is widespread. What’s important there is that they identify who these shadowy figures are. That is very important.”
He urged customs officials to name names. “Just name three and that would be enough to frighten them off.”
In his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on July 22, the President lashed out at BOC personnel for not collecting more than P200 billion from smuggled goods.
“Instead of collecting the proper taxes and preventing contraband from entering the country, they are heedlessly permitting the smuggling of goods, and even drugs, arms and other items of a similar nature into our territory,” Aquino said. “Where do these people get the gall?”
The President said BOC personnel who could not do their job “do not deserve to remain in office.”
Trillanes said he would support a Senate resolution seeking an investigation of the “padrinos” of corrupt customs officials but added this was no longer necessary.
“We already know who they are. Senator [Francis] Escudero also already knows who they are,” Trillanes said.
He said he would support the investigation if only to inform the public how deep-seated corruption in the bureau was.
He, nonetheless, said it wouldn’t be an easy inquiry. “Those who think they would be implicated will divert the investigation somewhere else.”
Escudero, Senate finance committee chair, on Tuesday filed a resolution directing three powerful committees to investigate the padrino system in the BOC.
Escudero’s resolution mandates his committee as well as the blue ribbon and ways and means committees to spearhead the investigation of a long rumored patronage system in which well-connected protégés have allegedly engaged in irregular activities.
Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon has complained that efforts to curb shenanigans in the bureau are for naught since those entrenched in the padrino system have chosen to remain uncooperative in cleaning up the agency.
This, however, did not deter him from directing all district and subport collectors to submit letters relinquishing their posts.
Escudero said admissions made by Biazon and his deputy commissioner for intelligence, Danilo Lim, that influential personalities had been interfering in the agency’s conduct of business were already “loud whispers that cannot and should not be ignored anymore.”
The senator said the atmosphere of corruption in the BOC “has acculturated the entire agency, even its own officials already admitted to its existence. We in Congress should police our own ranks. Who else will look into this if we ourselves turn our eyes away from it?”
Backers of 3 kings
Biazon and Lim were quoted as saying that backers of corrupt officials in the agency include a host of senators, congressmen and relatives of some high officials.
Reports have identified individuals referred to as the “Three Kings” that Biazon and his men are allegedly keen on targeting in the reorganization.
They include Ricardo Belmonte, brother of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and who is soon to retire from the BOC; district collector Carlos So of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and Port of Manila district collector Rogel Gatchalian.
Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile is allegedly Gatchalian’s backer, while So has the support of the politically influential Iglesia ni Cristo.
Last week, Escudero challenged BOC officials to name names so that those who are guilty can be made accountable.
Escudero said Section 14, Article 6 of the Constitution categorically banned any form of intervention from members of Congress in any matter before any office of government for his pecuniary benefit.
He added that Republic Act No. 3019, or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, defined persuading, inducing or influencing any another public officer as one of the corrupt practices punishable under the law.
So far, Speaker Belmonte has gone out to announce that “appropriate cases” would be filed against “the congressman” believed to be influencing operations in the bureau.
Escudero said the BOC, as the second-biggest revenue earner in government, “deserves a full and thorough legislative deliberation not only to institute reforms but also to cleanse it.”
‘Most corrupt agency’
He noted that the BOC had long been perceived as the most corrupt government agency.
“Its performance in terms of revenue collection is a major instrument for the government’s target programs. Any deficit is directly proportional to the public’s disadvantage,” he said.
Several senators quickly threw their support behind Escudero’s proposal.
Neophyte Sen. Nancy Binay said she wanted the investigation to eventually come up with recommendations that would “insulate the BOC from padrino interventions.”
Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III said the Senate probe should identify all specific methods of corruption in the bureau.
Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said this could mean corrupt practices both “personal” or something done by an individual and “systemic,” which occurs in a larger environment conducive to corruption.
Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara, chair of the Senate committee on ways and means, also expressed support for Escudero’s resolution.
“[This] is really the best time to put a stop to all this political patronage practice that has plagued the agency for many years now. The time is now to erase the perception that the BOC stands for Bureau of Corruption,” Angara said in a text message.
“[As] chair of the ways and means, of course, we would like to closely monitor if the BOC will be able to meet its revenue targets for the prevailing year because quite frankly I’m disturbed by these corruption allegations,” Angara added.
Angara’s committee is in charge of matters relating to revenue generation.
Opposition Sen. Tito Sotto said the Senate probe was “inevitable” because of the present circumstances.
Opposition Sen. Gregorio Honasan reminded colleagues that the padrino system was practiced in virtually all government offices throughout the country.
An amused Sen. Sergio Osmeña III, however, cautioned his fellow lawmakers against the Senate probe.
“That’s been going on forever. Ha-ha,” he said in a text message when asked to comment about the planned padrino investigation.
Probe by independent body
Osmeña said he would rather that the probe “be done by an independent agency” or well-meaning investigators could face a blank wall.
Trillanes said he was stumped by the President’s decision to keep Biazon as the BOC head after Aquino lashed out at the agency for corruption, failure to curb smuggling and repeatedly failing to meet its revenue targets.
“I’m really confused. When [he took up the customs situation in his Sona], it means that the situation was already quite serious,” Trillanes told reporters.
“Now, the head of the agency—the one principally responsible—offered to resign. I’m now confused why [the President] didn’t accept [it],” the senator said.
Retired Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Oscar Cruz said Aquino should have accepted the resignation of BOC officials who offered to leave their posts.
“When you already know that they have thick faces and yet they remain but you don’t remove them, what does that make you?” Cruz said.
“It does not make sense. It does not make logic. You say you want to take the straight path, but these thick faces remain. Come on,” he added.