Customs reforms due in ‘less than a month’By TJ Burgonio, Jerry E. Esplanada
Philippine Daily Inquirer
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT, Philippines—The scoundrels in the Bureau of Customs (BOC) are the ones excited about the extensive reforms he is carrying out in the bureau and shouldn’t have long to wait, President Aquino said on Tuesday.
The President said the reform process would be over in less than a month, even as he remarked how he couldn’t believe the extent of the smuggling activities going on in the country’s ports.
“Perhaps those to be hit by the reforms are the ones very excited about it. They should stop worrying. Within a very short time, in less than a month, the process will be finished,” he told reporters after welcoming the BRP Ramon Alcaraz here.
Meanwhile, for the seventh consecutive month this year, the BOC failed to meet its collection target, with most of the agency’s 17 collection districts registering collection deficits, according to some customs personnel in charge of collections.
July revenues totaled almost P27.8 billion, about 14 percent higher than the revenues collected during the same period in 2012.
But it was still P1.8 billion short of the BOC’s monthly target of P29.63 billion, the sources said.
Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon, who has yet to release the official BOC collections data for July, on Tuesday blamed “slippages” resulting from smuggling, as well as trade liberalization, a sluggish international trade and a strong peso, among other factors, for the decline in the bureau’s revenue collections.
Aquino admitted to reporters that he had been “on board” in the formulation of the reform measures but could not go into details. He said he would make the necessary announcements in due time.
Reforms have become the mantra at the Bureau of Customs after the President publicly rebuked the bureau’s officials and its employees in his state of the nation address last July 22 over what he said was the rampant smuggling of arms, drugs and other commodities and their repeated failure to collect P200 billion in customs duties every year.
This prompted Biazon to offer his resignation, but this was rejected by the President. The still-entrenched Biazon has embarked on a wide-ranging revamp, asking all customs district and port collectors to relinquish their posts to make way for a review and reshuffle.
Two of Biazon’s deputies, Danilo Lim and Juan Lorenzo Tañada, also turned in their courtesy resignations, but Aquino has yet to act on them.
Asked whether the BRP Alcaraz would be deployed for drug interdiction in the high seas, Aquino on Tuesday said drug smuggling took place more in the ports.
“It’s not common for such smuggling to happen in the seas. More goods pass through our ports that Customs fails to check,” he said.
Aquino said he was to meet Lim Tuesday at the Palace and would not comment on whether the ex-soldier and putschist would be appointed to another government post.
“Can I talk to him first? It would be odd if I’ve already made a decision even before we sit down to talk. Out of respect for him, he should not hear this from a different source,” he said.
Biazon and Lim had been quoted as saying that the powerful backers of corrupt officials in the agency include senators, congressmen and the relatives of some top officials.
During the first semester of 2013, the BOC collected a little over P145 billion, way below its six-month target of P163.85 billion.
Biazon claimed there was a “slight increase” over the previous year’s figures.
He said the bureau was set back by the March collection figures, which amounted to P21 billion, nearly P7 billion short of the agency’s target of P28 billion for the 31-day period.
“We ordered a tightening of the antismuggling campaign last March. Stricter measures were implemented to target traders who undervalue and misdeclare, making those who play the ‘cat and mouse game’ adopt a wait-and-see attitude. That could be contributing to that. Plus, of course, the usual slump in collections during the first quarter of the year,” Biazon explained.
The January to March period is “traditionally a lean season for imports. The period comes immediately after the high demand of the Christmas season and the slowdown during the Chinese New Year,” Biazon said.
He noted that the figures bounced back in April with collections of about P26 billion.
In a phone interview, Biazon said the evaluation of the performance of the BOC’s collection districts “will be included in the assessment of who will be moved in the next round of the Customs reshuffle.”
“Some district collectors who performed well beyond expectations will likely be retained,” he said.
For the January to June period, at least two ports—Clark International Airport in Pampanga and the Subic Bay Freeport in Zambales—had already met their 12-month targets.
The Clark airport’s total collections have reached more than P1.06 billion, against its annual target of almost P886 million.
The Subic port meanwhile has already registered revenues of nearly P4 billion, against its 2013 target of P2.5 billion.