‘Watch out for Friday 3 p.m. habit’ at Customs
Whoever replaces Angelito Alvarez as chief of the customs bureau should monitor the so-called “reunions” among corrupt officials and employees every Friday at 3 p.m. at the port area, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said on Tuesday.
Only when this notorious group is dissolved can any commissioner of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) declare that the agency is indeed corruption-free, the senator said.
Lacson said it was an open secret among customs insiders that corrupt officials and workers of the bureau meet “somewhere in the pier” to collect their share from bribes given by unscrupulous businessmen who want to expedite the release of their imports.
“This is the reason why it is difficult to get in touch with most customs officials on Fridays,” he said. “All roads lead to the pier just so they can collect their share in this form of institutionalized corruption.”
Talk of Alvarez’s replacement had been rife since May amid the smuggling into Mindanao of vehicles, including a Harley Davidson motorcycle stolen from a Hollywood scriptwriter.
Earlier this month, Alvarez exposed the disappearance of more than 2,000 containers from the Port of Manila, which resulted in huge foregone revenues for the government.
On Monday, President Aquino confirmed that he had chosen a new customs commissioner who, he said, had asked a few days of quiet before announcing his name.
Inquirer sources said the President had asked former Muntinlupa City Rep. Rozanno Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon to head the BOC and that the latter accepted the job two weeks ago.
Malacañang on Tuesday said Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima had talked with Alvarez even before the President had told the media that he was replacing the latter.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said she did not know whether Mr. Aquino spoke to Alvarez. “I do know that Secretary Purisima had been in touch with Commissioner Alvarez prior to the President’s statements (the other day),” she said.
In television interviews on Tuesday, Alvarez said he had yet to be officially told that he had been fired.
Lacson said he was not condemning everyone employed by the BOC. “When I say institutionalized (corruption), it is not necessarily 100 percent of the workforce,” he said.
The senator would not disclose percentages observed in the sharing of bribes. However, Lacson said he got an update that “package deals” in which importers are charged P350,000 for each container that leaves the port area without an inspection “can now go down to as low as P150,000.”
“The point is to avoid an inspection and for the container van to leave as quickly as possible. This is how shabu and firearms enter the country,” he said.
He said the most popular smuggled items were rice, sugar and resin.
Lacson dismissed sporadic accomplishment reports released to the media in which the BOC announces seized shipments.
“Why don’t they declare the shipments that they refuse to confiscate because that’s the bigger story,” he said.
“Do you realize how many containers enter the ports of the entire country in a day? About 2,000 to 3,000 containers! If the corrupt people earn P5,000, or even just P2,000 for each container, imagine how many zeroes those add up to,” Lacson added.
One of the issues that Alvarez’s replacement should investigate right away is why goods coming to Manila use Batangas as a transshipment point, he said.
“Transshipment is necessary when the goods are transferred a good distance from one point to another. But Manila to Batangas? What’s the point?” Lacson asked.
There are suspicions that BOC-issued transshipment permits have become a legal cover for smuggling.
This after a team organized by Alvarez noticed only P3.7 million was paid in duties and taxes by parties that imported 188 of 790 containers granted such permits last year. A total of 3,656 transshipped containers could not be accounted for. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño
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