DAVAO CITY, Philippines—President Benigno Aquino III expressed dismay over the performance of the Bureau of Customs, an agency embattled by allegations of high-level corruption due to the continued smuggling of goods, including hot vehicles.
“We are constantly viewing the performance of the BoC. We look at the raw data and the collections have increased…but I am not satisfied,” he said.
Aquino said the tax collections registered by the BoC have shown positive increase since he took office, but this performance was smeared by the discovery of smuggled items in Cagayan de Oro and Bukidnon recently.
The President expressed disbelief over the claim made by Customs officials in Cagayan de Oro that they did not know how the smuggled hot vehicles got through the port.
“They are supposed to be the one tasked to make sure that no smuggled item gets through. Why are they claiming to having no knowledge about it?” he said.
The President was referring to the National Bureau of Investigation’s May 3 twin raids in Talakag, Bukidnon, and Cagayan de Oro City, which seized 21 high-end motorcycles and four luxury cars, including the controversial $80,000 chopper motorcycle that supposedly belonged to Hollywood screenwriter Skip Woods.
Aquino disclosed that within the next two months, major changes within the system of the BOC would be implemented – designed to improve its services, including curbing corruption and preventing smuggling.
“We have been discussing steps on how we are supposed to improve the services of the Customs…expect that in two months,” he said without elaborating.
This was the reaction of Aquino over the appeal of the People Power for Reform Volunteers (PPRV), headed by Karina David, and the anti-corruption group Ehem!, for him to reactivate the Designated Examination Area (DEA) in Davao and replicate it in other ports across the country as a means to fight corruption at the BOC.
A DEA facility is currently being set up in Cagayan de Oro. The DEA facility in Davao, the first in the country, opened in 2009 but was stopped by the BoC in February 2010 after its private partner, businessman Rodolfo Reta, squealed on the supposed questionable cargoes to Customs officials.
Benjie Lizada, lead convenor of PPRV-Davao, said the DEA system, which was a brainchild of the BoC itself, was so effective in Davao City that just a few months after its operation, 40 vans of smuggled rice had been discovered and reported.
Davao’s DEA, which was placed inside the property of Reta, was stripped of its functions in February last year by former Davao customs chief Anju Castigador.
Once the DEA is reopened, and replicated in other ports of the country, reports of anomalies will be sent directly to the customs main office in Manila with copies furnished local customs offices and accredited watchdog groups.
On the one hand, Aquino stands by the case filed by the BoC against Phoenix Petroleum Philippines, Inc.
“Talking to the Department of Finance, they feel that they have a very, very strong case against Phoenix. And I do not interfere in the conduct of their functions. But they will not file cases which are frivolous,” he said.
“Our interest is not only in the filing of the cases but actually getting justice for our people. Kung may mga nagkasala, dapat lamang ay mapupunta sa tamang kaparusahan… (If some people violated the law, they should be appropriately punished),” he added.
He said that if Phoenix felt that their rights were infringed upon, then the company should exercise its right to file cases against the BoC.
On Tuesday, Dennis Uy, owner of the company, filed libel and grave misconduct and abuse of authority charges against Commissioner Angelito Alvarez. This, after the BoC filed a complaint at the Department of Justice against Phoenix for alleged multimillion-peso smuggling.
Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte earlier said the case filed against Phoenix stemmed from the company’s refusal to be bought by its competitor, a bigger petroleum firm. He, however, refused to name the petroleum firm.