Duterte at Bureau of Customs helm bucked

Vicente Sotto III
Vicente Sotto III

SENATE President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III does not agree with the proposal for President Rodrigo Duterte himself to head the Bureau of Customs in order to cleanse it of corruption and other anomalies.

While it may seem pleasant to hear, Sotto believes that the task will actually be challenging for the President.

“Sounds good but it will take too much of his time.  OK na si Jagger (Leonardo Guerrero),” Sotto said in a statement sent to Senate reporters.

Sotto explained that heading the bureau would mean more hours spent on it while the Chief Executive has many other problems to resolve.

The senator insisted that the President should let new Customs Commissioner Leonardo Guerrero handle the BoC and implement reforms in the agency.

It was election lawyer and senatoriable Romulo Macalintal who suggested that the President himself head the BoC while claiming that tapping the military to take over the bureau is unconstitutional

The Constitution states that no member of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in active service may be appointed to a civilian position in the government, he said, referring to Article XVI, Section 5, of the 1987 Constitution.

Meanwhile Senator Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV predicted that the endemic illegal practices in the Customs bureau will only contaminate the AFP.

Trillanes said that President Rodrigo Duterte’s plan to tap the AFP to take over the BoC will not work since military personnel are trained to deal with national security and not to collect customs duties.

“This will not work.  Worse, the endemic corruption at the BoC might even contaminate the AFP,” Trillanes said.

Instead, Trillanes suggested seven steps to the administration in order to cleanse the bureau and bring honest and outstanding service.

First is the prosecution, to the full extent of the law, of the drug lords and customs officials responsible for the P6.4 billion shabu shipments.  He even named former Customs Commissioners Isidro Lapena and Nicanor Faeldon.

Second is the computerization of the BoC systems for a mandatory electronic filing with automatic electronic copies furnished to CoA, counter intel units and the Office of the Ombudsman.

Third, the revival of the private pre-shipment inspection services which is of the utmost importance and, fourth, having multiple remote x-ray monitors manned by CoA and counter-intelligence units.  This is to avoid collusion and allow counterchecking of the findings of BoC x-ray operators.

Fifth, Trillanes stressed the reduction of customs duties (except protected goods) to discourage smuggling; sixth, lifestyle checks and prosecution of erring BoC personnel and lastly, increased of incentives for BoC personnel who exceed performance targets.

Trillanes said that assigning the military in the BoC is aimed at projecting the government’s seriousness in dealing with the problem inside the bureau but the fact remains that those responsible for allowing the shabu smuggling are not being prosecuted.

Not military task

An opposition solon has reminded the administration that the eradication of corruption is not the task of the military.

Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman argued that the “calling out power” of the President under Section 18 of Article VII of the Constitution is for the sole purpose of having the Armed Forces of the Philippines “prevent or suppress lawless violence, invasion or rebellion” which endanger public security or safety.

“This power cannot be exercised to solve corruption in a government agency like the Bureau of Customs (BOC) where public safety or security is not at stake,” Lagman said.

He added that serious and endemic corruption does not amount to “lawless violence” but to odious criminality.

With Jester P. Manalastas