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Controversial customs police chief reinstated

MANILA, Philippines—After getting the green light from the Department of Finance (DoF), Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez on Monday ordered the reinstatement of the top customs police official who had been dismissed for failing a lifestyle check.

In a memo, Alvarez ordered Deputy Commissioner Horacio Suansing Jr. to reinstate Jose Yuchongco as special police chief of the Bureau of Customs’ Enforcement and Security Service.

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“Yes, I have ordered his reinstatement effective [Monday],” Alvarez said in a phone interview.

He said Yuchongco was earlier put on floating status because the bureau was still waiting for guidance from the DoF on what to do after then Ombudsman Ma. Merceditas Gutierrez ordered Yuchongco’s reinstatement.

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“The practice when we get an order from the Ombudsman—whether it is about a dismissal or reinstatement—is that we ask the DoF first about what to do because it has supervision over us,” Alvarez said.

“Now that we got their endorsement, I signed the order reinstating (Yuchongco) to his position,” he added.

The endorsement of the Ombudsman order came from Assistant Finance Secretary Peter Calimag of the department’s Revenue Operations and Legal Affairs Group.

“This endorsement is only valid insofar as the present factual circumstances dictate and is without prejudice to any future order that may be issued by a competent court or tribunal in relation to this matter,” Calimag said in his endorsement dated May 13.

“Your attention is also called to any further action that will be taken by the DoF-RIPS (Revenue Integrity Protection Service) on the matter,” he added.

The bureau’s decision ends several days of speculation over the fate of Yuchongco.

Undeclared property

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The DoF’s antigraft body, RIPS, sought Yuchongco’s dismissal several years ago on grounds that he did not disclose in his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth (SALN) several pieces of real estate, including one in Hillsborough subdivision in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, and P3 million in lotto winnings.

Yuchongco asked the Court of Appeals to review the Ombudsman’s ruling on his dismissal, but the court denied his motion in April.

But in an order dated May 4, a few days before her resignation became effective, Gutierrez reversed the ruling of Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Mark Jalandoni and declared that Yuchongco be given his post back.

In February, Jalandoni, in his decision to dismiss Yuchongco, said the customs police chief was guilty of grave misconduct for failing to declare assets in his SALN.

Error of judgment

But Gutierrez said that Yuchongco’s late declaration of certain assets was merely an error of judgment and that he exerted efforts to fix the inaccuracies in his SALN.

Gutierrez’s ruling—which has been called a “midnight” decision because it was issued only days before she resigned—also ordered the withdrawal of any “corresponding case” filed in court against Yuchongco.

The DoF initially confirmed Yuchongco’s reinstatement, but later backpedaled after officials said they had received only a photocopy of the Ombudsman’s order.

After the original document was served, the DoF’s lawyers then tried to determine whether the Ombudsman still had jurisdiction over the matter, since Yuchongco had earlier asked the Court of Appeals to intervene in his case.

Yuchongco last week maintained his innocence and defended Gutierrez’s decision reinstating him to his former post.

“I maintain that all the charges against me were mere fabrications by people who were hurt by the war I waged against smugglers. My reinstatement is well-deserved and based solely on the merits of the arguments and pieces of evidence put together by my lawyers,” Yuchongco said.

Yuchongco also said the Court of Appeals had no jurisdiction over the case because he had withdrawn his motion for certiorari with the appellate court.

Still reversible

Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares said last week that Gutierrez’s order was “invalid” because the Court of Appeals had already dismissed Yuchongco’s petition questioning his dismissal.

Colmenares noted that Yuchongco filed a motion to withdraw his petition from the appellate court on the same day it promulgated its decision on his case.

The lawmaker said the next Ombudsman could still reverse Gutierrez’s order.

Alvarez pointed out that the order was specific in saying that Yuchongco’s reinstatement would not preclude future action by the DoF on the issue.

“At this point, I can only speculate that this would include the option of filing an appeal,” he said.

Pending further action on the matter, however, Alvarez said that he had no problem working with Yuchongco in the latter’s capacity as head of the bureau’s enforcement unit.

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TAGS: Conflicts (general), Government offices & agencies, Graft & Corruption, Police
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