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In wake of drug smuggling inquiry, solons file bills seeking Customs reforms

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In wake of drug smuggling inquiry, solons file bills seeking Customs reforms

/ 05:38 PM September 10, 2017
The plenary hall of the House of Representatives

The plenary hall of the House of Representatives. (Photo from the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

Four measures seeking reforms in the Bureau of Customs (BOC) have been filed in the House of Representatives in the wake of its inquiry in to the smuggling of P6.4-billin worth of shabu, or crystal meth.

Quezon City Rep. Winnie Castelo filed House Bill No. 6188, which seeks to create an online system payment at the bureau to combat the so-called “tara,” or grease money, system.

Under the bill, titled the BOC Online Payment Act, payments for “any BOC transaction” should be deposited in ab assigned state-run bank via online facilities. The bill proposes that violations be penalized with a P500,000 fine or a one-year prison term.

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In his explanatory note, Castelo blamed “face-to-face” payment as the “culprit” that enabled personnel to receive grease money to facilitate shipments. An online system, he said, would prevent close-quarters transactions and curb bribery.

Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza also filed House Bill No. 6220, which seeks to make the advance customs clearance and control program mandatory instead of voluntary.

The bill seeks to amend Section 440 of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA), which only made the clearance program voluntary.

Atienza said this would ensure that all containerized cargo bound for the Philippines would undergo advance inspection at the country of origin, with the costs to be borne by the shipper.

“If properly implemented, this would prevent illegal goods such as drugs and hazardous waste from even reaching our shores,” Atienza said.

He explained that the previous Congress originally meant to make the process mandatory, but subsequent amendments by the House and Senate to the law made it voluntary.

Muntinlupa City Rep. Ruffy Biazon filed House Bill No. 6298, which seeks to privatize the auction functions of the BOC for the dispoal of goods in order to curb corruption in that aspect.

Biazon’s bill would amend Section 1141 of the CMTA and task the BOC with acquiring the services of a private auction house that would be responsible for “all the public auctions” of the bureau.

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The selection of the private auction house would be done yearly and through public bidding under the proposed measure.

Biazon, who was a Customs commissioner under the Aquino administration, explained that privatizing the auctioning functions should result in more income for the bureau as “there are certain functions that the private sector does more efficiently and effectively.”

The proposal is also meant to “minimize, if not totally eradicate, collusion between BOC employees and favored bidders,” to the disadvantage of the government.

Finally, Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Maximo Rodriguez Jr. filed House Resolution No. 1246, which calls for the adoption of a third-party inspection system of cargo.

Rodriguez cited the testimony of witness and customs fixer Mark Ruben Taguba II, who exposed the “alleged complicity” of some Customs personnel that resulted in the entry of 604 kilograms of shabu last May.

He also cited the privilege speech of Sen. Panfilo Lacson about the alleged top-to-bottom corruption at the bureau.

The resolution noted that a pre-shipment inspection system has been going on since the 1990s to verify the quality and quantity of goods being shipped into the Philippines. However, the World Trade Organization, in a conference held on Dec. 6, 2013, banned the system for being in “restraint on trade.”

Like Atienza, Rodriguez pressed for the need to inspect shipments at the point of origin.

To avoid violating the WTO prohibition, he proposed a third-party inspection system covering only the description and volume of the commodities without touching on the value or tariff classifications.

According to his resolution: “This prior inspection will greatly minimize, if not completely stop, the entry of illegal goods, especially drugs, into the country; greatly reduce corruption in the Bureau of Customs; provide faster service for importers and shippers; and will result in higher revenues for the government.” /atm

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TAGS: Bureau of Customs, Customs corruption, Customs reforms, Customs shabu shipment, Lito Atienza, Maximo Rodriguez Jr., Ruffy Biazon, Winnie Castello
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