27 customs collectors moved to ghost office
“Shocked, at a loss and very disappointed, to say the least.”
This was how two senior customs officials described how they felt on learning about their impending transfer to what they called the “non-existent Customs Policy Research Office,” or CPRO, at the Department of Finance head office.
“All 27 of us are actually being placed on floating status,” one of the collectors said, adding that the CPRO “has no budget, no staff, no objectives, and no guidelines to speak of.”
“In effect, it’s a demotion,” another customs source lamented. “Imagine, from port revenue collection managers, we’re now being tasked to do research work,” added the source who spoke on condition of anonymity for lack of authority to speak to the media.
Twenty-seven senior district collectors of the Bureau of Customs—including the so-called “Three Kings”—have been reassigned from the DOF-attached agency to the CPRO.
‘Out of sync’
The Inquirer on Friday tried but failed to reach Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon for comment on the issue.
The BOC head was described as being “out of sync” and seemingly frantic and confused (hilong talilong) about the BOC reshuffle.
According to sources, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima forwarded for Biazon’s signature a customs personnel order (CPO) assigning all collectors 5 and 6 to the DOF cluster on revenue generation headed by Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares.
Sources said the move was sanctioned by Malacañang and was part of the reform program at the BOC, but that “the DOF had made it appear that the (revamp) was the idea of Commissioner Biazon who had no recourse but sign the CPO.”
Transferred were Rogel Gatchalian, Carlos So, Eduard de la Cuesta, Ricardo Belmonte, Adelina Molina, Ronnie Silvestre, Macabantug Mandangan, Priscilla Bauzon, Imelda Cruz, Ma. Sonia Togonon, Lilibeth Sandag, Raymond Ventura, Teresita Roque, Ma. Liza Torres, Maritess Martin, Arnel Alcaraz, Tomas Alcid, Ma. Lourdes Mangaoang, Francis Agustin Erpe, Rogelio Villagracia, Marieta Zamoranos, Juan Tan, Carmelita Talusan, Arefiles Carreon, Rustum Pacardo, Romalino Valdez, and Talek Pablo.
BOC insiders dubbed “Three Kings” Gatchalian, So and Belmonte, district collectors of the Port of Manila, the BOC office at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and the Manila International Container Port, reportedly because they have powerful political backers.
Sources said Gatchalian was backed by Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, while So and Belmonte had the Iglesia ni Cristo and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, respectively, behind them.
Said the BOC source: “The question now is who will take over our posts? Those next in rank?… There’s talk some people from the Bureau of Internal Revenue, if not appointees of Purisima will take over our posts… Let’s see how this (revamp) would affect the bureau’s revenue collections and the BOC service in general.”
Reports said Purisima had recommended retired Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff Jessie Dellosa and four others to the deputy commissioner posts at the BOC.
Aside from Dellosa, the finance chief also endorsed Trinidad Rodriguez, executive director of the National Tax Research Center, director Myrna Chua of the Department of Budget and Management, customs and trade expert Agaton Teodoro Uvero, and Primo Aguas.
The BOC was among the three government agencies called out for their lackluster performance by President Aquino during his State of the Nation Address in July, along with the Bureau of Immigration and the National Irrigation Administration.
The President however did not accept Biazon’s offer to resign after the scolding.
In the CPO, a copy of which was obtained by the Inquirer, Biazon quoted Section 3 of Executive Order No. 140, series of 2013 as the basis for transferring the senior port collectors from the BOC to the CPRO under the DOF.
Biazon had earlier told the Inquirer that the customs revamp “will not be influenced by politicians and other power blocs.”
The customs chief added: “The reshuffle’s other objective is to remove port collectors from their comfort zones… It will not be limited to port collectors but would also cover deputy collectors, appraisers, examiners and people involved in cargo clearance operations,” among others.
Last week, Biazon said he welcomed “any new Malacañang appointees” to the bureau and was “ready to work with them anytime.”
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.