5 ex-generals axed at BOC
IT’S THE END of the road for five retired generals and two other former military officers as district collectors of the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
The BOC has named seven agency old-timers who will replace retired military officers, who had been running key ports since 2013 as detailed personnel of the Department of Finance’s Office of Revenue Agency Modernization (Oram).
The retired generals who were replaced were Mario Mendoza, Elmir de la Cruz, Esteban Castro, Arnulfo Marcos and Bonifacio de Castro.
A lawmaker said the sacking of the retired generals was long overdue, but two BOC officials claimed that the replacement of the former officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) was “election-related” aimed at raising campaign funds for some administration candidates.
Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina Monday identified the new collectors and those they replaced in the following ports:
Port of Manila—Nicky Earl Hortillas, replacing Mendoza
Manila International Container Port—Antonio Pascual, replacing De la Cruz
Clark International Airport—Cecilio Gallo, replacing Castro
Port of Batangas—Reynaldo Galeno, replacing retired Army Col. Ernesto Benitez
Port of Cebu—Rico Rey Francis Holganza, replacing Marcos
Port of Zamboanga—Benhur Arabani, replacing Army Maj. Jerry Loresco
Port of San Fernando, La Union—Romeo Allan Rosales, replacing De Castro.
In a statement, Lina said Rolando Ricafrente, district collector of the Limay port in Bataan province would also be replaced.
However, the former Coast Guard officer’s replacement was “still being considered.”
Valenzuela Rep. Magtanggol T. Gunigundo, chair of the House ways and means committee, said the firing of the retired generals was a long time coming.
“They are illegal and inutile. There is no reason for them to stay any longer. Good riddance,” Gunigundo said in a phone interview.
Gunigundo said the appointment of the retired generals was a “bad experiment” made during the transition between then Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon and his replacement, John Phillip Sevilla, because revenues deteriorated further under their watch.
Lina said that “in 2013, the Department of Finance (DOF) reassigned BOC district collectors to the Customs Policy Research Office (CPRO) and put in their place retired generals, among other former military officers, forming part of the Oram, which was tasked to implement a system and process enhancement to improve revenue collection based on their integrity, management skills and capabilities.”
Customs personnel refer to the CPRO as the DOF “freezer.”
He recalled that during the recent budget deliberations, the DOF and its attached agency—the BOC—“extensively defended the Oram during the hearings to retain it.”
However, the budgetary requirements of the Oram-detailed officers were “specifically denied” by Congress, Lina said.
He did not identify the legislators who opposed the budget allocation for Oram personnel.
Gunigundo said the retired generals were axed through “removal by appropriations.”
Without security of tenure and salaries, Gunigundo said it was a matter of time for the former military officers to be removed.
The House ways and means committee chair said Congress had to take this action because the DOF and BOC had refused to remove the former AFP officers despite glaring violations of Civil Service Commission regulations.
“We want them to respect the Civil Service Commission where nonorganic personnel should not have supervision over organic personnel. We consider them (ex-generals) contractuals with no eligibility,” Gunigundo said.
Had the retired generals stayed in office longer, they would have been sued along with Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and Lina, according to the lawmaker.
Gunigundo disagreed with Lina’s move to appoint junior grade officials for senior positions, especially with only a few months remaining in the administration.
He said the BOC was better off putting back the senior officials who he claimed were “unfairly” placed on floating status even though they were more competent.
But Lina has high hopes for the new port collectors.
“We trust that the new port collectors know the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines by heart, as well as the appropriate Customs valuations and assessments and duties and taxes,” he said.
At the same time, the BOC chief stressed the need to intensify further the bureau’s campaign against smuggling.
Target not met
Last year, the BOC collected P369.9 billion in revenue, nearly P70 billion lower than the agency’s target of P436.5 billion.
The bureau’s top performers for 2015, or those that raised collections above their targets included the Port of Iloilo (P2.3 billion), Legazpi (P290 million) and Zamboanga (P175 million).
The poorest performing ports were Limay, Aparri (Cagayan) and San Fernando, with revenues that fell short of their annual goals by P23 billion, P455 million and P35 million, respectively.
Some BOC insiders, including two officials, interviewed for this story, claimed the sudden replacement of the former generals was “election-related.”
“There’s talk the set of port collectors will be tasked to raise campaign funds” for some administration candidates in the May elections, among other functions, according to a source.
“Expect legitimate traders and even smugglers to complain of higher ‘tara’ for their imported shipments,” said another BOC official who asked not to be named for lack of authority to speak to the media.
Tara is the port users’ term for grease money collected by corrupt BOC personnel in exchange for the prompt release of misdeclared and undervalued goods.
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