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Opinion

Customs more profitable than Cabinet

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

While all eyes have been watching who gets appointed into the BBM Cabinet, it seems that the gatekeepers failed to check on who is being pre-positioned to be the next commissioner of the Bureau of Customs. Because of our collective concern for food and energy security, everybody has been watching and waiting who finally gets appointed as secretary of energy and secretary for agriculture. But considering all the reported smuggling of agricultural products as well as fuel smuggling, how could we overlook the importance of who gets appointed as Boss at the BOC and who is the primary “Ninong” or political endorser of the leading candidate?

Don’t look at Mandaluyong or Malacañang because BBM has been focused on finding Cabinet secretaries and not a Customs commissioner. I have been informed by a mole that a couple of legislators who have a penchant for importing fancy sports cars already have their candidate for the position of BOC commissioner.

As far back as I can remember, the process of selection for the commissioner of Customs has always been dependent on two things: who has the biggest commercial interest at stake and if the appointee could deliver whether in cash or in kind. Once in a while a “Mr. Clean” would be appointed to counteract public suspicion and scrutiny but he would be surrounded by “Legion,” the proverbial legion of corrupt political appointees inside BOC sponsored or endorsed by different high-ranking government officials, legislators and influential groups, religions or movements.

Contrary to claims and assertions, the BOC has not been cleaned or cleared of payola collectors. The only reason we don’t hear anything about it is because the payoffs have been systematized to the extent that they are already part of the cost of doing business. This is the reason why ordinary citizens and businesses have to pay a high price when transacting business with the BOC.

I hope that BBM exercises his independence over supporters and relatives in the appointment of the next Customs commissioner because the BOC has time and again been the source of embarrassment for past presidents and previous administrations. While the incoming secretary of finance in the person of Ben Diokno is the no-nonsense type, I hope that he is not brushed aside by the “Kamag-anak Inc.”

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The Department of Agriculture, particularly the Bureau of Animal Industry, has managed to create more enemies instead of gaining supporters as a consequence of their solutions to controlling the spread of Avian Influenza or New Castle disease. It may be recalled that the DA-BAI issued “search and destroy” orders for infected poultry flocks, lockdown of infected farms and its immediate vicinity and disallowing the shipment, transport or travel of all types of poultry from the island of Luzon to the Visayas and Mindanao. The quick response of the BAI was initially praised and recognized as a necessary intervention in order to prevent the destructive impact of such diseases.

However, weeks have turned into a month, two months, three months, and so on but instead of gaining control of the situation, poultry and gamefowl farm owners now suspect that the ban on shipment is being used as a tool by the DA and the BAI to force the farms big and small to register as an on-going business, collect taxes, etc. and not to fight Avian Influenza. In addition, the ban is now nationwide, which is hurting people who ship and sell either poultry/layer/free-range chickens as well as gamefowl backyard sellers below the poverty line.

A number of outspoken advocates have been sharing their views on social media and fanning these out to the media in the hope of putting a stop to what they see is an underhanded tactic of the DA-BAI. According to the information supplied by a lawyer/sabong advocate and a well-established gamefowl veterinarian, the transport ban on poultry remains in effect even in areas where there have been no reported cases of Avian Influenza or a history of such for so many years. The only exemption or exception has been for the province of Iloilo that is currently the gateway for poultry and gamefowl shipment to any part of the country. However, this exemption comes with a lot of requirements.

The existing rule that is being implemented by the Animal Quarantine office of the BAI requires people applying for shipping permits to present certificates of registration of the farm or place of origin and proof that the location or farm has been tested free of Avian Influenza. Without this, the shipper will have to request that testing be done by the provincial veterinarian or BAI representative who will then do the farm visit, draw blood samples for screening. This can take anywhere from two weeks to a month before the results come out because the laboratory samples have to be sent via courier to the Bureau of Animal Industry laboratory in Quezon City. It seems that there is a Regional Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory in Iloilo Province, but they are not provided the necessary test kits.

Farm registration sounds so simple until you learn that the requirements are as follows: Mayor’s Permit, registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission or the DTI, Animal Welfare Registration must meet the minimum number of breeding flock=50 hens/10 broodcocks, land area of 1,000 square meters, zoning permit, breeding facilities, in operation for at least six months at the time of inspection, with technical know-how in handling farm operations.

If government wants to collect taxes, go after the bettors, sabong operators but stop making life so hard and complicated for the folks who are selling what they produced with hard work and their money. There are so many things the BAI can regulate in the cities relative to animals, supply stores, importation of foreign and exotic animals, etc. The work that matters is out there. Leave Chicken George alone.

BUREAU OF CUSTOMS

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