President Aquino: Angelito Alvarez is out
BOC chief bares big port scam in last hurrahBy Christine O. Avendaño, Philip C. Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
President Benigno Aquino III has finally shown Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez the door but the official is not leaving without a bang.
Shortly after Mr. Aquino confirmed on Monday that he had picked a new customs chief, Alvarez said he had uncovered a huge “scam” involving the smuggling last year of more than 3,600 shipping containers purportedly to raise election campaign funds for the Arroyo administration.
Alvarez said the government lost hundreds of millions of pesos in the clandestine operation.
Mr. Aquino refused to say who Alvarez’s replacement would be, saying only that the person he had chosen had accepted the job and that he had promised the incoming chief of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) a few days “of quiet” before releasing his name.
Malacañang’s confirmation that Alvarez would be leaving came on the eve of the President’s departure for a five-day state visit to China and six days after the Inquirer reported that the new customs commissioner would be former Muntinlupa City Rep. Rozanno Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon.
Palace sources on Monday said that Biazon—Mr. Aquino’s Liberal Party mate who lost in the 2010 senatorial race—remained the President’s choice for the job.
Biazon, who was on Boracay Island, declined comment.
In a text message, Biazon said: “If it’s about the customs issue, I’m sorry I would have to decline (comment). I’m reserving comments until there’s an official Malacañang announcement.”
‘A little space’
Mr. Aquino revealed his decision to replace Alvarez in a pretaped interview on RMN radio, which was aired Monday. The Palace later released the transcript of the interview.
Mr. Aquino was asked in the interview if reports were true that Alvarez was getting the ax.
Speaking in Filipino, Mr. Aquino replied: “I have promised to give the person whom I talked with and whom we expect to fix the customs bureau that I will not announce any name yet to give the person a little space.”
“The person asked for a few days of quiet so give me a chance to make good on what we agreed upon,” Mr. Aquino said. He said the person he was referring to had accepted the BOC job.
Mr. Aquino said he hoped “there would be no change of mind.”
The President also said he was “not happy” with Alvarez, but he did not elaborate.
Asked whether his choice was a politician or someone from the private sector, Mr. Aquino said: “I think it’s not different from who you have in mind.”
The Inquirer last week quoted Malacañang sources as saying that the President had offered Biazon the job and that he had accepted.
The sources also said it was likely the President would announce Biazon’s appointment on his return from China on Saturday.
On Monday the same Palace sources—who asked not to be identified because they had no authority to speak about the matter—told the Inquirer that Biazon was still Mr. Aquino’s choice.
“I have not heard of anyone else,” said one of the sources. “It appears that it’s Biazon … unless something happens while the President is in China.”
Biazon is said to be on a vacation with his family, taking advantage of the long weekend.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte denied knowledge of who would replace Alvarez.
Alvarez promised a smooth turnover at the customs bureau.
“When my replacement arrives, I will turn over my responsibilities in a very professional way,” he said.
But he had a last hurrah.
Alvarez said that 3,656 containers went missing last year allegedly as part of an effort to raise campaign money for the Arroyo administration.
He said that out of 3,844 containers granted transshipment permits from January to December last year for shipment from the Port of Manila to the Port of Batangas, only 188 could be accounted for.
“My suspicion here is that the Bureau of Customs was being used as a milking cow to raise funds for the last elections,” Alvarez said in an interview.
He said that the preliminary data gathered by the special audit team he organized indicated that 3,054 containers were granted transshipment permits from January to early July last year and another batch of 790 containers between November and December.
However, the consignees filed consumption entries for only 188 containers from November and December for which they paid only P3.7 million in duties and taxes, Alvarez said.
In effect, 3,656 containers could not be accounted for, along with hundreds of millions of pesos in duties and taxes, he added.
“The discovery of this scam which dates back during the time of the previous administration is the tipping point of our campaign against smuggling,” Alvarez said.
He said that “the scam is an old smugglers trick,” adding that the people behind it “obviously did not reckon that a commissioner with a solid audit background would be able to spoil the party.”
Alvarez claimed preliminary data showed that three consignees benefited from the operation: Jaycen Enterprises (which accounted for 2,901 of the missing containers); Sea Eagle Trading (768 containers); and Green Mountain Trading (175 containers).
“Curiously, Sea Eagle Trading, which was a minor player in 2010, became one of the more active transshippers to Batangas this year,” Alvarez alleged.
“Jaycen Enterprises, the dominant player last year, and Green Mountain Trading dropped out of the transshipment scene, their spots taken over by LCN Trading and Mocelian Enterprises,” he claimed.
Alvarez said Sea Eagle Trading, LCN Trading, and Mocelian Enterprises were the three consignees the BOC sued in the Department of Justice last week for the disappearance of 1,910 containers this year.
Alvarez said he would ask the officials of the Port of Batangas, the Port of Manila and the Manila International Container Port to explain why no consumption entries were filed for the 3,656 transshipped containers.
He also said he had been receiving threats on his cellular phone.
“Whoever is my replacement, I hope he or she would pursue it and investigate who is responsible,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez said that, as of lunch time on Monday, he had yet to be informed by the Palace or his superiors at the Department of Finance that he was being replaced.
He said Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima had been looking for “a tipping point” in the antismuggling campaign.
“It’s just bad that now that we’ve discovered it, we are replaced. But it’s OK. No regrets,” he said
“I cannot satisfy everybody. I did my best. If my best wasn’t enough, then I can’t do anything about that. When that time comes, I will not hold a grudge against the President. That is his call.”
Alvarez has blamed vested interests hurt by his reforms at the BOC for calls for his resignation.
“I discovered many anomalies like how they were faking official receipts, receipts of origin and even load port survey results,” Alvarez said.
Talk had been rife since May that Alvarez was on his way out following a controversy involving smuggled vehicles in Mindanao, including a P3.4 million custom Harley Davidson motorbike stolen from a Hollywood scriptwriter.
The contraband seized by the police included 25 cars and motorbikes brought in from Texas by a ship. With a report from Nestor P. Burgos Jr., Inquirer Visayas
Tags: big port scam , Bureau of Customs , China visit , Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez , former Muntinlupa City Rep. Rozanno Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon , Graft and Corruption , President Benigno Aquino III , smuggled vehicles , Smuggling , unhappy president , West Philippine Sea