Tan: We lost in public perception
- Jerry Botial () - January 8, 2000 - 12:00am

He is leaving one of the government's "dirtiest" agencies on Monday. But lawyer Nelson Tan believes he was not a total failure in the one year and two weeks he has served as Bureau of Customs chief.

Tan, who at 37 became the country's youngest Customs commissioner, said he was able to institute reforms in the bureau, although the public did not see it.

"We lost in public perception," he said. "The thing is we do not tell the media everything we do. I do not deny that there had been smuggling. What country does not have? But we have done our part," he said.

Tan will formally turn over his post to retired Air Force Gen. Ramon Farolan who was appointed by President Estrada to again head the Customs bureau.

Farolan, former president and editor-in-chief of The STAR, served as Customs chief from 1977 to 1986. He and Tan are expected to have a one-on-one discussion Monday when he returns to his old post.

Tan said he does not know Farolan personally but has heard only good things about him.

"I heard his intergrity is beyond reproach," he said. "The President must have made a good choice. I think the business community and the Customs rank-and-file will welcome his appointment."

Rumors have been circulating that President Estrada was already bent on replacing Tan, following reports that he was ineffective in curbing smuggling in many of the country's major ports.

Tan said, though, that the President only told him officially about his sacking last Thursday. And the President was even apologetic in announcing his decision to replace him.

"He (Mr. Estrada) was very fatherly. He told me very personal things and said he was sorry that I was one of those he was letting go. He said his popularity was going down and that he had to start anew with a clean slate," Tan revealed.

"Huwag daw sana akong magtampo. I told him he doesn't have to explain. I was happy and very honored he put me here," he added.

Tan started his government career as lawyer for the defunct Presidential Anti-Crime Commission which Mr. Estrada used to head when he was vice president.

A Zamboangueño, his family is involved in the shipping business.

Tan said he is leaving Customs with nary a dirt in his hands and with not a single centavo of graft money in his pocket.

"I am glad I was able to prove to myself and my family that one can stay at Customs and leave it still clean. I am happy that I have not allowed myself to be absorbed by the corruption in the system," he said.

However, he said he is sad to leave "a lot of friends" behind.

When asked about the life he would have after Customs, Tan jokingly said he might pursue a career in showbusiness since by now everybody may already know him after having appeared in the front page of different newspapers the past year.

Turning serious, he said he would now return to private life and maybe to his family's business.

"This one year has been a learning experience for me," he said.

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