MANILA, Philippines – Malacañang will soon implement a top-to-bottom reorganization at the Bureau of Customs as a major step to curb smuggling in the country.
“I think the biggest part of reform is changing the people,” Interior Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas told Philippine Daily Inquirer editors and reporters at a dinner on Thursday.
Roxas, a confidant of President Benigno Aquino III, said no amount of computerization of customs processes could bring about sweeping change at the graft-ridden bureau within the remainder of Mr. Aquino’s term without the replacement of key officials.
Roxas hinted that Commissioner Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon’s move to ask for the courtesy resignations of customs collectors and the so-called “Three Kings” of the BOC—Carlos So, reportedly backed by the Iglesia ni Cristo, Rogel Gatchalian, reportedly backed by Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, and Ricardo Belmonte reportedly backed by his brother, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.—was part of this plan.
“I think they could be placed on floating status,” said Roxas, but clarified that he was not privy to the actual directives of Aquino regarding the BOC reorganization.
“But I think that the President and Commissioner Biazon have already announced their program of relieving all the customs collectors,” he pointed out.
Biazon had announced that the BOC would soon roll out a suite of software solutions under its P418-million Integrated Philippine Customs System (i-PCS) project to curb smuggling and corruption at the bureau.
President Aquino had singled out the BOC in his State of the Nation Address to a joint session of Congress for repeatedly falling short of its collection targets and failing to check smuggling and corruption.
Biazon, unveiling his renewed game plan to increase collections, stop smuggling and curb corruption in the bureau, said that one of the main pillars of his reform agenda was the “full computerization” of the bureau.
“With computerization, there will be no contact between the importer and customs employees. No paper work. Everything will be by computer. Aside from curbing corruption, transactions in the BOC will be quick. Fixers will be put out of business. And collections will increase,” he said.
BOC’s computerization agenda includes implementing the i-PCS, which builds on the gains of the electronic-to-mobile (e2m) computerization project that has been operational since 2009.
The i-PCS project was awarded last June to the joint venture of Dubai-based Webb Fontaine and local firm Global Resource for Outsource Workers Inc.
(The project has run into some problems, however, with a Manila court recently ordering a temporary stop to its implementation until it resolves a case filed by a losing bidder alleging that the contract was awarded on the basis of “spurious documents.”)
Roxas explained that the BOC was nothing more than an agency that collected tariffs and duties from importers.
“What is the Customs except a toll both? It’s the person” who should be reformed, he said.
He said smuggling and corruption would not go away “whatever electronic (process) you will institute, if the collector will not collect the money or place it in the cash register, but put it in his pocket.”
He said the person manning the toll booth was the problem, so a “modern, airconditioned, computerized” toll booth would not do the trick.
The President “has been wanting change in the Bureau of Customs,”Roxas said. “Part of his plans for changing the Bureau of Customs was [retaining the services of] Commissioner Biazon, so that much I know.”
Since Aquino’s state of the nation speech, Malacañang has been keeping the media—and the public—at bay on the major reforms that the Prersident intends to implement at the BOC.
“Let’s wait for the reforms,” was all the President’s official spokesman, Edwin Lacierda, would tell reporters.
Asked about these reforms, Roxas said: “You’ve seen the biggest reform—the people.”
He said that whatever system the BOC has, “if the personnel won’t follow or would play blind,” any reform would be meaningless.
Biazon said Friday he would announce within two weeks who among the district and subport customs collectors would be replaced on the basis of their performance as revenue collectors (40 percent), enforcement against smuggling (30 percent) and feedback from “stakeholders,” presumably the public (30 percent).