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‘Palace won’t telegraph punches on Customs’

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - Malacañang is keeping mum so as not to telegraph its punches when it comes to implementing sweeping reforms in the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said this is in reaction to calls for President Aquino and the BOC to name the supposed corrupt and influence peddlers affecting the operations of the agency.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV said the President would know those meddling in the affairs of the BOC, while Fr. Edu Gariguez of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said there should be an independent body to investigate alleged anomalies and questionable transactions at the Customs.

Several other challenges had been made to name the people involved in corruption in the agency.

Lacierda said he spoke with Trillanes yesterday morning and the senator expressed support for the President’s moves to cleanse the bureau.

“This is my last song syndrome… in respect to the Customs: let’s wait for the reforms,” he said.

Lacierda said all concerns would be covered by the reforms, including proposals to have a law that would allow Customs officials to reorganize the agency.

“You will know when the reforms will be implemented,” Lacierda said.

“If I answer you one way, there will be a lot of implications or consequences – unnecessary or unintended consequences. So the safest answer is to say: you will know,” he stressed.

Asked why Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon had to go through the motion of asking the district collectors to relinquish their posts when he could have just fired or suspended them if he had evidence, Lacierda again answered: “You will know.”

He said the BOC has an intelligence unit and as far as Malacañang was concerned, “part of the process of instituting reforms is to know the battlefield.”

“It is safe to say that we know the battlefield and we know the lay of the land; and so, what the reforms are will be in response to the lay of the land,” Lacierda said.

Lacierda also said he has no information regarding reports that Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares would replace Biazon.

The President had declined the resignation offered by Biazon following the State of the Nation Address last July 22 mentioning the rampant corruption in the BOC.

Biazon vowed to overhaul the BOC by calling on all its district collectors to relinquish their posts. He said this would give him a free hand to reassign the port collectors as part of efforts to reform the bureau.

Biazon yesterday said he would meet all the 54 district collectors and subport collectors in preparation for the reshuffle that would take effect next week.

He said he would preside over a command conference with the 17 district collectors and 37 subport collectors on Friday morning at the Port of Manila.

“I want to set the record straight with regard to what direction we are taking, which was started by my directive to them to submit letter of relinquishment, what they can expect afterward and what I expect them to do,” he said.

Biazon said he would draft a list of those who would be retained in their present position and who would be given new assignments. Some of the movements would take effect next week.

“We are assessing the collectors and we would come up with that recommendation,” he said.

Biazon clarified that a collector might be transferred, not because he was ineffective but because he is needed to improve the effectiveness of a port.

Biazon said he would have to present to and gain the approval of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima before the reshuffle could be implemented.

He stressed the reforms he intended to implement will not stop with a reshuffle of its top officials.

One of the top collectors of the agency, Carlos So, assigned at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), failed to submit his letter of relinquishment on Monday as ordered by Biazon.

So has been described as one of the “Three Kings” because he occupies a sensitive position at the BOC.

Even if So failed to meet the 5 p.m. deadline last Monday and did not submit his letter of relinquishment, Biazon explained the Customs NAIA chief did send him a lengthy text message explaining that under the Tariffs and Customs Code, collectors do not have to submit a letter relinquishing their posts since the Customs commissioner has the authority to reshuffle them.

Biazon interpreted So’s text message as an expression of his support for the reform program. “I took his message to mean that he is not opposing a transfer,” he said.

When asked further as to what would happen to So, Biazon said the Customs official would be subjected to assessment on where he should be assigned.

At the moment there is no ground to place So on floating status, he said.

“So far, I have not seen any major offense (from So) and the instructions I have given him in the past, he was able to carry out. So there are bright spots here and there,” Biazon added. – With Evelyn Macairan

ANTONIO TRILLANES

BIAZON

BOC

BUREAU OF CUSTOMS

CARLOS SO

COLLECTORS

CONFERENCE OF THE PHILIPPINES

CUSTOMS

LACIERDA

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