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Opinion

A man of principle

SENTINEL - Ramon T. Tulfo - The Philippine Star

Lawyer John Tan, a retired collector who worked in the Bureau of Customs, is floating on Cloud 9 these days.

The recent Supreme Court decision lifting its order to the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs to suspend collecting excise tax from Pilipinas Shell Petroleum (Shell) has exonerated Tan.

When he was customs collector of the Batangas Port, Tan discovered that Shell was importing unleaded gasoline, but misdeclaring it as gasoline blended stock.

Tan said Shell was cheating the government of excise taxes on misdeclared unleaded gasoline.

From 2009, when the high tribunal issued its temporary restraining order (TRO) on collecting excise tax, up to the present, the taxes that Shell owes the government would amount to a whopping P175 billion!

For standing up to a giant corporation, Tan was relieved as Batangas Port collector and not given any assignment.

Worse, Shell filed a slew of libel cases against him that were later dismissed.

Insinuations flew thick and fast that Tan was trying to extort an enormous amount from Shell.

What hurt Tan most was that the insinuations came from some of his former customs colleagues who, apparently, were jealous of him.

Tan filed for early retirement in disgust.

Then, on July 27, 2021, John’s vindication finally came.

Accolades from his classmates at the Ateneo de Manila Law School – he belongs to Batch 1977 – and fellow lawyers and his former customs colleagues inundated Tan on social media after this column published the high tribunal’s decision.

“Congrats, John. Proud to be your friend,” said retired Supreme Court Justice Mariano del Castillo, John’s law school classmate.

Another classmate, retired Supreme Court Justice Andres Reyes, wrote, “Great, John!”

Regional Trial Court Judge Victoria Bernardo and former law classmate said: “God bless you, John Tan! What was meant for evil turned out to be good.”

“Finally, you have been vindicated. I salute you, my friend,” wrote retired Samar RTC Judge Manny Torrevillas and former customs chief of the Port of Manila.

Ateneo classmate and Energy Regulatory Commissioner Agnes Devanadera said: “Congrats, John. At least your vindication came during your lifetime.”

“Congratulations, John! You took the path less traveled,” Ateneo classmate Rey Francisco added.

Opap Villongco, Ateneo classmate, said, “Congrats, John.”

Ateneo classmate and former Congressman Tim Adaza wrote: “Mabuhay ka, partner John! No one can put down a good man like you, mate. Salute to my friend.”

“Congrats, John! You are a modern Don Quixote,” said classmate Nani Fabia.

“John, you were uncompromising in your principles. You made the right decision and although you are now retired, you were correctly vindicated,” said classmate Danny Macalino.

“Please read page 11 of Philippine STAR, the column of Mon Tulfo. It’s good news about you. Congrats,” said Jet Apano, former intelligence chief at the Davao Port.

Lawyer Ernie Go of Zamboanga City wrote: “Read Tulfo’s column. Congratulations! What you went through, what you achieved… I think you fit the definition of a hero.”

“A very monumental vindication for you! I hope the government will fulfill its obligation to you,” said Nitoy Santos, a friend from Davao City.

Lawyer Rey Salutan, a friend from Davao, wrote: “Mabuhay ka, John!”

“It took enormous courage on your part, and at great expense to your name and reputation, to take on a big company,” said high school classmate Araceli Chan.

“The article of Ramon Tulfo on the Shell importation case is a vindication of (your) name and honor,” said high school classmate Teddy Lim.

“John, not only your family, classmates and friends are proud of you but the country as a whole. You took on a supergiant with tremendous financial power,” said Dionisio Chiong, another high school classmate.

Former customs commissioner Nelson Tan wrote the following message: “Only a few people know what you have gone through in your noble fight against a big and formidable opponent like the Shell company. I’m very happy that recent events like the SC ruling have vindicated you, and this column of Tulfo enhances your image as an honest and upright customs official who was unduly maligned for doing his job to protect the government’s interests. I hope Malacañang will take notice of your dedication and sacrifice and give you the recognition you richly deserve.”

*      *      *

John Tan is a man of principle.

He lost the opportunity to be promoted during the administration of president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Then first gentleman Mike Arroyo approached him and promised to promote him if he, like some of his colleagues, denounced me.

I incurred the ire of Mike Arroyo for exposing the smuggling activities of his alleged paramour, Vicky Toh.

My informants in the customs bureau told me about Toh’s “swing,” which in pier lingo means taking out imported goods from the customs warehouse without paying taxes and duties on them.

I told GMA about my find during one lunch appointment in Malacañang; she told me to write about it, so she could order customs officials to stop Toh.

If I may digress, I was close to the first couple, and had monthly lunch or dinner arrangements with the president at the Palace. I also had weekly get-togethers with Mike Arroyo.

I had to choose between journalism and my friendship with Mike; honestly, it was a very difficult decision to make.

Arroyo came back at me, hammer and tongs.

The former first gentleman approached some customs officials, some of whom I thought were my friends. He wanted them to publicly say that I extorted money from them.

Only two customs officials turned down Arroyo and missed being promoted: John Tan and then customs deputy commissioner Celso Templo.

“Sorry, sir, I would be lying if I did that,” said Tan.

Templo also said the same thing.

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