Special Report: Part 1 of 3-part series: ‘Manual release’ scheme used in “disappearance” of 641 containers

July 01, 2019

BoC  spokesman tagged In POM container mess.

A SPECIAL investigation committee formed by Bureau of Customs (BOC) Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero, has tagged 10 people, one of them Manila International Container Port (MICP) district collector, Atty. Erastus Sandino ‘Dino’ Austria, as allegedly involved in the “disappearance” of some 641 containers at the Port of Manila (POM) last year.

He has been the BOC spokesman since the term of Guerrero’s predecessor, retired police general, Isidro Lapeña. He was POM district collector at the time of the illegal container releases that cover the period, March 28, 2018 to August 6, 2018.

Guerrero last February 27 issued Customs Special Order (CSO) 20-2019 to investigate the anomaly after an initial report disclosed that some 555 containers, described as “ship spares in transit” were “manually released” at the port’s Informal Entry Division (IED), without payment of duties and taxes to the government.

Under CSO 20-2019, Guerrero designated deputy commissioner for enforcement (Enforcement Group), Atty. Teddy Raval and deputy commissioner for intelligence (Intelligence Group), retired BGen. Rainiel Ramiro, as chair and co-chair, respectively, of the committee.

The members of the committee are Atty. Vincent Philip ‘Jett’ Maronilla, assistant commissioner, Post Clearance Audit Group (PCAG); Joeffrey Tacio, director, Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS); Atty. Yasser Ismael Abbas, director, Import Assessment Service (IAS); and, Atty. Alvin Ebreo, director, Collection Service, Revenue Collection and Monitoring Group (RCMG).

Three more lawyers and five other customs employees were made members of the committee secretariat to assist and document the investigation.

The committee was tasked, “to conduct investigation and gather information and evidence as well as take testimonies and administer oaths on BOC officials and employees and other individuals concerning the unauthorized release of shipments through the Informal Entry Division of the Port of Manila for the year 2018.”

From an initial report of 555 containers, the panel discovered that the number of “manually released” containers that went missing afterwards rose to 641, sources said.

The report and its recommendations, they added, were forwarded to Guerrero’s office last June

3.

“It is now up to the commissioner (Guerrero) to accept, modify or reject the committee’s findings and recommendations,” one of the sources said.

The source also noted that all committee members signed the report. “The decision to adopt the report and its recommendations in their entirety was unanimous.”

The committee, sources said, recommended that the fate of Austria, who was cited for “neglect of duty” and “command responsibility,” be determined by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) as Austria is an appointee of  President Rodrigo Duterte.

The PACC was formed by Duterte in 2017 to specifically investigate accusations of corruption against all his appointees.

“Under the doctrine of command responsibility, a government official or supervisor is presumed to have knowledge of the commission of irregularities when they are widespread within his area of jurisdiction,” a portion of the report shown to this writer said, referring to Austria.

On the part of the BOC, also named in the report aside from Austria were: former POM deputy collector for assessment, Florante Ricarte, who was also cited for “neglect of duty.” Ricarte is also deputy collector for assessment at the MICP; Gliceria Umandap, former chief of the IED-POM, for “conduct prejudicial to the service” and for “conspiring and colluding” with another or others to defraud customs revenue or otherwise violate the law” in relation to Section 1431 of RA 10863 or the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act.  

Umandap, however, retired from the service last May 13.

IED-POM customs appraiser, Mimosa Maghanoy was cited also for conduct prejudicial to service and for “grave misconduct,” which entails the penalty of dismissal from the service.

To be continued