MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang on Wednesday refused to engage Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV in his call to President Benigno Aquino III to crack down on “power-wielders” in the Bureau of Customs but maintained reforms were forthcoming.
Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda declined to confirm Trillanes’ claim that the President knew the “padrinos” (patrons) but said the executive department has the complete picture of the situation in the Customs.
“Part of the process of instituting reforms is to know the battlefield. It is safe to say that we know the battlefield and we know the lay of the land; and so, what the reforms are will be in response to the lay of the land,” he told reporters in a briefing.
Malacañang has vowed to institute extensive reforms in the agency.
Trillanes has said the President knew the identities of the patrons of Customs personnel linked to smuggling, and expected him to do something about it.
The President, in his July 22 State of the Nation Address, rebuked Customs personnel who had been trying to “outdo” one another in permitting the smuggling of arms, drugs and other goods, thus failing to collect P200 billion.
Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon and Deputy Commissioner Danilo Lim have been quoted as saying that the backers of corrupt officials in the agency include senators, congressmen and relatives of some top officials.
Reports have identified the “Three Kings” in the agency as Ricardo Belmonte, brother of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.; district collector Carlos So of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport; and district collector Rogel Gatchalian of the Port of Manila.
Biazon had asked port collectors to relinquish their posts to make way for a revamp.
On Tuesday night, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte responded to Trillanes’ statement by saying: “Let’s just wait for the reforms set to be implemented, and then we can assess from there.”
Lacierda said he spoke with Trillanes but claimed they didn’t dwell on the latter’s public challenge to the President to crack down on the power wielders. He said the senator expressed support for Mr. Aquino’s reforms.
“I spoke to Senator Trillanes a while ago and he was saying to me that: ‘I support the President’s call for reforms’… We are just waiting for what these reforms will be and that’s about it,” he said.
Lacierda also declined to say if the President had solid evidence against Customs personnel when he lambasted them for their incompetence in his SONA.
“You will know our reforms… You know, we don’t want to telegraph what our measures will be. If I answer you one way, there will be a lot of implications or consequences. So the safest answer is to say: you will know,” he said.
“This is my last song syndrome in respect to the Customs: let’s wait for the reforms,” he added.