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Smuggling is ‘embedded’ in Customs, says group

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:58:00 05/10/2011

Filed Under: Crime, Smuggling, Graft & Corruption

DAVAO CITY ? The recent discovery of hot cars and big bikes in Cagayan de Oro City and Bukidnon exposed a system of corruption embedded at the Bureau of Customs that can be stopped through a proposal made to President Benigno Aquino III by an anticorruption group here.

For Benjamin Lizada, lead convenor of the People Power Volunteers for Reform-Davao City, the case in Bukidnon and Cagayan de Oro City is reflective of unabated smuggling in the entire country.

?I hope we can all help in solving the smuggling problem in our country. It is very easy to solve,? Lizada told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

His group sent a letter on March 6 to President Aquino proposing the revival of Designated Examination Areas (DEA) outside customs zone as an effective way to fight smuggling.

The letter was also signed by Fathers Archimedes Lachica and Albert Alejo, of the anti-corruption movement Ehem, and Ednar Dayanghirang, a member of the government peace panel negotiating with the National Democratic Front.

Successful experiment

The DEA experiment, said Lizada, had proven to be successful in Davao City. A few months after the customs bureau agreed on Jan. 9, 2009, to set up a DEA in the city, Lizada said 40 vans of smuggled rice had been discovered and reported.

But instead of investigating the smuggling, Lizada said customs officials worked to remove the DEA from the Davao port.

?It has been done and the solution is very simple,? said the letter of Lizada?s group to Mr. Aquino. ?But for it to work, you have to give the order to revive it yourself. Do not leave it to the BOC,? the letter read.

It said Lizada?s group had approached several officials, including Budget Secretary Florencio Abad Jr. and Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, ?but it seems the request for an investigation gets lost in the paper work.?

Lizada?s group also recommended that reports of anomalies be sent directly to the customs main office in Manila with copies furnished local customs offices and accredited watchdog groups.

It said the DEA operator should be from the area where the port is to prevent a monopoly of DEA operations by a single individual. It also recommended that a local citizens? group be officially designated as watchdog in areas where smuggling is rampant.

Abolished by customs

Davao?s DEA, which was placed inside the property of businessman Rodolfo Reta, was stripped of its functions in February last year by former Davao customs chief Anju Castigador. It was Reta who reported the smuggling of 40 container vans of rice that were declared as construction materials when it entered the Davao port.

It was not the first time that Reta reported smuggling, but instead of acting on his reports, Castigador terminated the 25-year contract to operate the DEA.

?You will hear a lot of derogatory stories about the Davao City DEA operator,? said Lizada.

?Already he is being linked to certain politicians to discredit him. But the truth is as DEA operator, he fulfilled his functions...Because of this, the previous administration canceled the agreement,? Lizada said.

After Reta filed a case against Castigador, the customs official was transferred to Cagayan de Oro. His name again surfaced after the discovery in Bukidnon of hot vehicles, including the P3.4-million custom-made Harley Davidson stolen from Hollywood writer Skip Woods. Jeffrey M. Tupas, Inquirer Mindanao

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