Please your own ranks
By Conrado Banal
Philippine Daily Inquirer
March 26, 2012 at 2:16 am

Customs Commissioner Rufino Biazon, speaking before customs brokers recently, supposedly claimed that the basic elements for reforms in the Bureau of Customs were already in place.

The so-called reforms, as far as customs brokers are concerned, must have been designed to lessen the need for grease money at the BoC to facilitate the release of shipments. After all, customs brokerage as a business is all about dealings with the BoC. It is more than just a transportation business.

Biazon reportedly told customs brokers: “We have started the customs re-alignment of resources, we have operationalized the Philippine National Single Window (NSW) and we have fully computerized the bureau’s transaction.” In short, less hassle for customs brokers in their dealings with the BoC.

The audience of Biazon happened to be customs brokers who do business at the Port of Batangas. This is widely regarded among local industries, which suffer the brunt of much cheaper smuggled goods, as the most porous port in the country today. Remember—hundreds of containers of imported goods got lost in that port without a trace.

Biazon asked the customs brokers to help the BoC curb smuggling by policing their own ranks.

Well and good. If the good commissioner can seriously rely on customs brokers to be honest in their dealings with the BoC, I can only say good luck to him. By definition, businesses like customs brokerage seek to please their clients. The loyalty of the custom brokers is to their clients.

The BoC failed to meet its collection target last year by a mile, collecting only P264 billion as against the target of P320 billion. Last month was the same story: collections of P21 billion, as against the target of P26 billion.

To explain the bureau’s bad performance, Biazon blamed seasonality of importation. February was slow because of the Chinese New Year. In 2011, collections slowed down because of the lean import season in December.

To him, it seemed smuggling was not the reason for the BoC‘s failure to meet its targets, which was weird, considering that we have been hearing a lot of stories about uncontrolled smuggling.

Just last week, for instance, the Federation of Philippine Industries—the main business group active in the fight against smuggling—stopped the release of 15 containers of palm oil from Malaysia.

According to FPI chair Jesus Arranza, who is a cancer survivor by the way, the shipment was so undervalued that it could have denied the government millions of pesos in VAT collection. He said the FPI had asked the BoC to confiscate the shipment.

Multiply that case by several hundreds, and you may have an idea of the extent of smuggling in this country.

Come to think of it, has the BoC under the former congressman from Muntinlupa, Ruffy Biazon, filed the “big” cases involving perhaps some customs brokers and their notorious clients?

The good commissioner promised that this year, the BoC would be filing much bigger cases than those filed under his predecessor, former BoC chief Joselito Alvarez. And the guys down here in my barangay are still waiting for those big earth-shaking cases.

*  *  *

The Department of Justice issued a resolution on the murder case of radio commentator Gerry Ortega in Palawan, saying there was “probable cause” for filing of charges against former Palawan Governor Joel Reyes as the “mastermind.”

That was the third time the DoJ investigated the case. In the first two, the panel of prosecutors cleared the former governor, twice dismissing the complaint filed against Reyes. The third changed all that, in effect making a complete turnaround.

Was there any new evidence that the third panel of prosecutors discovered?

Well, the Reyes camp  howled foul to the DoJ, because the third set of prosecutors just “appreciated” the same evidence that were presented to the first two panels quite differently.

Reports said the supposed “new” evidence was the record of mobile phone of the former governor, purportedly showing text messages to a certain “Bumar,” who surrendered to the NBI, claiming he was the link between the suspected trigger man and the mastermind.

The “new” evidence was a copy of telephone numbers; they did not contain the supposed exchange of messages between Bumar and Reyes. The Reyes camp in the first two DoJ investigations never denied that the former governor has been in contact with Bumar through text messages. The Reyes camp in fact claimed Bumar had been badgering Reyes for loans, explaining the text messages, claiming further that the whole “texting” series seemed to be a setup, to frame up the former governor.

The two previous DoF investigations concluded that, indeed, the statement of Bumar regarding those text messages had been uncorroborated. Conclusion: it was “insufficient to establish probable cause.”

All of a sudden, the same statements got new meaning in the third investigation. Not only that, the new meaning found its way to media outfits through media releases from the DoJ, coming directly from the office of the justice secretary.

Not too long ago, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the third investigation would in no way set aside the findings of the first two investigations.

Something must have happened at the DoJ. The third panel overruled the first two—with the same set of evidence, the same facts of the case.

Incidentally, there was the smell of money in this sordid affair at the DoJ. News reports said one of the prosecutors in the third investigation went out of the country with a young woman on the day the decision was issued.

The question is this: Who is doing all the paying?

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