BOC execs, media hit Lina’s ‘gag order’
A memorandum issued by Commissioner Alberto Lina has raised eyebrows at the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
In a Sept. 1 directive, Lina required the bureau’s five deputy commissioners to first secure a clearance from Belle Maestro, his erstwhile public relations consultant and now chief of the BOC’s Public Information and Assistance Division (PIAD) before talking to media.
The memo was addressed to the following deputy commissioners: Jessie Dellosa for the Intelligence Group; Ariel Nepomuceno for the Enforcement Group; Agaton Teodoro Uvero for the Assessment and Operations Coordination Group; Arturo Lachica for the Internal Administration Group; and Dennis Reyes for the Management Information System and Technology Group.
The one-page document, a copy of which was obtained by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, did not say if other Customs officials were also covered by his order.
Sought for comment, Maestro clarified they had not issued a gag order.
She referred to her superior’s memo, which said it was “in compliance to the administration’s Open Data initiatives, as well as the Department of Finance’s directive to comply with the International Monetary Fund’s open data policy.”
Under the same policies, the bureau is tasked to “reaffirm its commitment to make government data more available to the public.”
“To improve its communication structure and processes, the bureau will institutionalize its own reforms in the PIAD by strengthening its functions, aligning the agency’s messaging, centralizing information and applying uniformity and consistency in the spirit of transparency,” said Lina in his memo.
Thus, “effective immediately, all media advisories, press and photo releases, press conferences and media interviews shall be coordinated with and cleared by the PIAD through its chief,” he added. The memo did not say if the order also covers “ambush” interviews by reporters.
Some BOC insiders chided Lina for his allegedly misplaced media reform program priorities.
Instead of issuing gag orders, they urged the Customs boss to go after media men of dubious affiliations who have been suspected of serving as fixers or public relations agents of smugglers and unscrupulous bureau personnel.
“Worse, these hao-siao (bogus) reporters are using some BOC offices as base of their operations,” said a bureau official, who asked not to be named for not having been authorized to speak to media.
Another source dared Lina to make good his promise of ensuring that “only bona fide media professionals are allowed entry to the BOC premises at the Port of Manila.”
In a July 10 memo, he said “only legitimate press members and groups shall be accredited” by the bureau, noting applications for media accreditation will be considered “on a case-to-case basis.”
Some reporters covering Customs found the memo confusion
On the item “access to Customs offices and other facilities,” Lina declared that for security reasons, media people “are not authorized to enter any office other than the press office unless invited by the office head.”
A media person, who asked not to be identified for obvious reasons, asked: “How come smugglers and other Customs players are given access to many, if not all BOC offices.”
Another media man said this happened “especially on Fridays,” indicating that the payment of tara, or bribes by traders to corrupt personnel to facilitate the release of their mis-declared and undervalued imported goods, usually took place on Friday.”
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