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Customs: Angelito Alvarez out, Ruzanno Rufino Biazon in

The ax has finally fallen on Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez.

Alvarez will be replaced soon now that President Aquino has found his replacement in the person of Rozanno Rufino “Ruffy’’ Biazon.

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Sources in Malacañang on Wednesday told the Inquirer that Biazon, who ran for senator in 2010 under Mr. Aquino’s Liberal Party but lost, accepted last week the President’s offer for him to head the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

Another defeated LP senatorial candidate also has been named to a Cabinet post. Mr. Aquino has appointed Nereus Acosta presidential adviser on environmental protection, a Cabinet-rank position.

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This time, Malacañang officially announced Acosta’s appointment. Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the President signed Acosta’s appointment document on Wednesday.

Mr. Aquino offered Biazon the position currently occupied by Alvarez only just this month, according to the sources, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to talk to the media about the matter.

Biazon, a former Muntinlupa City congressman and son of former Sen. and now Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, accepted the job after he asked for time to study the offer.

But presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda denied reports that Alvarez had resigned.

“The President is not aware of the resignation of Commissioner Lito Alvarez,’’ Lacierda said in a text message to reporters.

Asked whether Alvarez was still the BOC chief, Lacierda said “Yes.’’

After China visit

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It was not clear when the Palace will announce Biazon’s appointment but it will likely be after the President returns from his four-day state visit in China. The President departs for Beijing on Tuesday.

Asked to confirm talk that he would soon be named customs commissioner, Ruffy Biazon declined to make any comment, saying that announcements of presidential appointments should be left to the Palace.

“I also am not in favor of rumors because it will affect the performance of agencies,” Biazon told the Inquirer by phone.

Pier 13

Asked whether he met with Mr. Aquino recently, Biazon said he was with him the other day. He said they both attended the arrival of the biggest warship acquired by the Philippine Navy, BRP Gregorio del Pilar, at Pier 13 in Manila’s South Harbor.

Biazon said he was invited to the event by the Philippine Navy. He used to head the national defense committee in the House of Representatives.

“We just exchanged pleasantries,’’ Biazon said of his brief meeting with the President.

Smuggling

Talk had been rife since May that Alvarez was on his way out as a result of the controversy involving smuggled vehicles in Mindanao, including a high-end motorbike stolen from a Hollywood scriptwriter.

Mr. Aquino questioned how vehicles could have been smuggled undetected into the country when the BOC was supposedly guarding against such activities.

The President said at the time that there was an ongoing evaluation of Alvarez’s performance, noting “many allegations of this and that’’ at the BOC. He added that there would be changes to improve the bureau’s performance.

Amid the controversy, Alvarez said his hands were clean and that the reported smuggling of luxury cars and motorcycles in Mindanao happened before he became customs commissioner.

Early this month, Alvarez was embroiled in yet another controversy. Some 2,000 container vans from the Port of Manila disappeared while en route to Batangas province, causing the government to lose more than P240 million in potential revenues.

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, a former deputy customs commissioner, accused Alvarez of “practically running blind” the BOC.

Alvarez said calls for his removal from office were “unjust and undeserved.” They came from certain sectors whose smuggling activities are being curtailed by his strict adherence to the mandate of his office, he told editors on a visit to the Inquirer last month.

Mortal sin

Questions about his fitness to run the BOC cropped up right after he was named to its top post in July last year.

Sen. Vicente Sotto III asked Mr. Aquino at the time to revoke the appointment of Alvarez whom Sotto said committed a “mortal sin” when the latter lied about his scores in the Mango Tee Tournament.

A day after his appointment, the Alabang Golf and Country Club suspended Alvarez from playing at the club for six months. It also suspended him from participating in the Mango Tee tournament for five years.

Cabinet changes

The latest movements in the Cabinet came as Tourism Secretary Albert Lim was set to resign at the end of the month.

Lim earlier announced that he was resigning for personal reasons.

He was among three Cabinet officials a Palace source earlier identified as among the “headaches’’ of Mr. Aquino.

Advertising executive Ramon Jimenez, who helped in Mr. Aquino’s presidential campaign last year, is said to be the front-runner for the top job at the Department of Tourism.

Apart from Lim, Jose de Jesus resigned as public works secretary the previous month and has since been replaced by Aquino’s running mate, Mar Roxas.

Acosta

Acosta was expected to be appointed environment secretary after the one-year ban on losing candidates getting appointive posts lapsed in the middle of the year.

He is a former representative of the province of Bukidnon and is a stalwart of the Liberal Party.

“The former congressman is known for his advocacy mainly for the protection of the environment and we believe he will be a good addition to the President’s official family, given his long background and experience in environmental protection,” Valte told reporters.

Asked if other LP members who lost in the last elections would also be appointed to government posts, Valte said, “We can’t say at the moment because we have not been advised of any other appointments other than the one of Mr. Acosta.” With reports from Norman Bordadora and Inquirer Research

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TAGS: Bureau of Customs, Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez, presidential adviser on environmental protection Nereus Acosta, Rozanno Rufino “Ruffy’’ Biazon
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