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Customs eases cargo release

Lapeña said there should be no delay in the release of shipments covered by alert orders because it is being used as a scheme for corruption by erring Customs personnel who collect tara or grease money. File

MANILA, Philippines — From a two-month waiting time for a shipment issued with an alert order to be released, Bureau of Customs (BOC) Commissioner Isidro Lapeña yesterday ordered the inspection and release of shipments be completed within two days. 

Lapeña said there should be no delay in the release of shipments covered by alert orders because it is being used as a scheme for corruption by erring Customs personnel who collect tara or grease money.

“When they issue alert orders, they should act on it immediately and not allow these containers to remain in our custody. Tara comes in when the containers are not immediately released. The businessmen, wanting for their cargoes to be released, would offer (money) to expedite the facilitation of their shipment. They would offer a certain amount and that is tara,” Lapena added.

He recently met with members of the Federation of Filipino-Chinese Chambers of Commerce and Industry Inc. (FFCCCII) who told him that “they have no problem with (paying) the correct valuation. What they are asking for is to speed up the process, that their goods would be released at the right time.”

“We want to help our businessmen. In return for them paying the correct duties and taxes is the government’s service to facilitate their goods,” he added.

Lapeña admitted that many importers are afraid of the alert orders because “it would take an eternity before it is lifted.”

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“It is now being discussed that the alert order should be issued on the basis of information, that if there is an irregularity or discrepancy on a shipment, an alert order is issued and it has to be verified if it is true. If it is not true then they should let the shipment go. But if true, it can be held under a 100 percent examination. If warranted, a warrant of seizure and detention can be issued,” he said.

The BOC is now setting a timeline for attending to shipments with alert orders.

“It should be inspected in 48 hours. The person who issued the alert order would be the one responsible that the shipment is inspected within 48 hours so that there would be no finger-pointing.”

Previously, it was the BOC Command Center that issues the alert orders and the containers would be stuck in the container yards for one to two months. 

Upon his assumption last Aug. 30, Lapeña abolished the Command Center and gave the authority to issue alert orders to the deputy commissioners for Intelligence Group (IG) and Enforcement Group (EG) and the district collectors.  

Lapeña presented to media yesterday security guard Allan Pagkalinawan, assigned at the Pier Inspection Division (PID), and his alleged collectors Bryan John Cruz and Efren Jaramillo Jr. who were reportedly extorting money from truck drivers at the port.

The suspects reportedly collect between P20 to P50 from truck drivers with ordinary container vans, while truck drivers with refrigerated container vans paid between P100 to P200. The authorities found P22,500 in their possession.

Lapeña said that Pagkalinawan, who has been with the bureau for 40 years, faces dismissal from the service. They are also looking into filing extortion charges and other criminal and administrative liabilities against them. 

BOC Enforcement Security Service (ESS) Director Yogi Ruiz said together with CIIS, they caught on video the alleged illegal activities of the three suspects and apprehended them. 

Abolish BOC

Lapeña  also explained yesterday that the proposal to abolish the graft-ridden agency should be a last resort.

The House of Representatives committees on ways and means and on dangerous drugs have suggested the abolition of the BOC.

The suggestion is for the bureau’s border control function to be assumed by a new agency, while its function to collect tariff and duties could be absorbed by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). 

But Lapeña, who assumed his post as BOC chief last Aug. 30, does not agree with the proposal.

“That (abolition) should be the last resort. I can still see that there is big chance to reform the BOC for two reasons, first, President Duterte wants to reform the BOC and secondly, I see that there are more Customs personnel who want to join the reform. They want to restore the good name of the bureau,” he said.

Asked when it would come to the “last resort,” he said, “Maybe it will not come during my time, (nor) during the time of President Duterte… I know what the President wants and we will deliver. It is his campaign promise to rid the bureau of corruption and we will deliver and I have the backing of the President.”

He said that the reputation of the BOC, in its 115th years of existence, has not always been bad. “In the past, the BOC was reputable” especially since it carries the responsibility of being the second biggest revenue earner of government. 

The bad habits such as tara, corruption and extortion were only developed over the years.

He also believes that majority of the employees are good since many of them are parents who would want their children to be proud of them. “They want their children to say that their parents work for the BOC. There is an inherent goodness among the personnel of the BOC.”

He said that even the importers want to transact with honest BOC employees who would help expedite the release of their shipments.

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