MANILA, Philippines—Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon has been tightlipped about “who’s going where” in this month’s major revamp at the Bureau of Customs, which he said was aimed at improving revenue collection and curbing corruption in the Department of Finance-attached agency.
But the former Muntinlupa City legislator has assured the reshuffle, the second during the Aquino administration, “will not only be wider in scope” but also “will not be influenced by politicians and other power blocs.”
“The reshuffle’s other objective is to remove port collectors and other Customs officials from their comfort zones,” he told the Inquirer.
He said most of the personnel would be affected by the revamp. “However, some will be retained. I am referring to those who performed well beyond expectations,” he said. The BOC operates 17 collection districts nationwide.
Last week, the BOC head told reporters the reshuffle would not be limited to port collectors but would also cover deputy collectors, appraisers, examiners and people involved in cargo clearance operations, among others.
“We are going down the line (from district collectors to employees with lower ranks),” he said.
Biazon had asked port collectors to relinquish their posts to give way to a revamp. All collectors, including what BOC insiders refer to as the bureau’s “Three Kings,” have already complied with the directive.
Agency personnel were referring to collectors Rogel Gatchalian, Ricardo Belmonte and Carlos So, heads of the Port of Manila, Manila International Container Port and the customs office at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport, respectively.
Gatchalian and So are said to be backed by former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and the influential Iglesia ni Cristo, while Belmonte is a younger brother of Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.
BOC personnel also noted that all three ports were among the collection districts that had failed to meet their revenue targets for 2012 and the first half of 2013.
In January, the bureau’s first major reshuffle raised eyebrows at the agency due to the noninclusion of Gatchalian, So and Belmonte in the revamp.
Biazon, however, defended the collectors’ reconfiguration, stressing that it was his discretion being the Customs boss.
“The revamp would be a continuing thing … This is just the initial phase of several other measures we shall undertake to meet our collection target this year,” which totals P340 billion, P7 billion less than the Customs goal in 2012, he asserted.
A day after President Aquino admonished the BOC in his recent State of the Nation Address, the Customs head warned all bureau officials and employees to heed the President’s call for reforms in the agency.
Biazon said Aquino’s warning to agency personnel engaged in smuggling and other illegal activities should send a strong message for them to shape up or resign.
Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto noted a recent news report that placed the total value of smuggled commodities per year at P800 billion.
Recto said the business sector considered smuggling a major concern “because it weakens the domestic market for manufacturers and for importers who pay the proper duties and taxes.”
He wanted to put more teeth in the Customs and Tariffs Code so that smugglers could be meted out higher penalties, including life imprisonment.
Recto has filed Senate Bill No. 456 that would consider the following as acts of smuggling:
— Breaking of Customs seals or the unauthorized removal of articles from bonded warehouses;
— Submission of incorrect or false information by a bonded warehouse; and
— Storing finished articles; those not declared in the import entries, in excess of volume or quantity; and prohibited or regulated articles “without the corresponding clearance and/or import authority issued by a competent authority.”
Recto said it was urgent for Congress to make smuggling “a much more serious offense,” especially if the amount of goods clandestinely brought in exceeds P1 million.
Government officials and employees could be fined a maximum of P1 million and a prison term up to 12 years for smuggling-related offenses.