Business watches as Duterte orders military ‘takeover’ at Customs bureau

October 30, 2018 at 17:00

Business watches as Duterte orders military ‘takeover’ at Customs bureau

Coast Guard

Customs and Coast Guard personnel stand at attention at the port of Manila in this Oct. 15 official photo release of the Bureau of Customs.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte is putting soldiers in key positions in the Bureau of Customs, which has reeled from revelations of a record estimated P11 billion worth of methamphetamine that slipped through the country’s ports.

Asked on this latest development at the bureau, which last week saw a change at the helm, business leaders said they would watch if it would improve transactions at the ports.

“… I’d like to put on notice everybody in the Bureau of Customs [that] they are all floating status,” Mr. Duterte said in a speech in Davao City on Sunday night.

“… Customs police are also on floating status, everybody. The Customs Intelligence Unit, they are to report to Malacañang — all of them. I am ordering everybody to report to my office,” he added, recalling that he ordered newly installed Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero, a former armed forces chief-of-staff, to ask the bureau’s X-ray provider to train the military’s technical specialists to operate the equipment.

“They (current Customs staff) will be replaced all — all of them — by military men. It will be a takeover of the Armed Forces… while we are sorting out how to effectively meet the challenges of corruption in this country… Almost all of them there have… in one way or the other been charged of corruption,” Mr. Duterte continued, explaining that the government “cannot just dismiss them.”

“And yet we cannot just move on because we want to be lawfully correct so dahan-dahan lang tayo(we will have to proceed carefully)… But with this kind of games that they are playing, dirty games, I am forced now to ask the Armed Forces to take over.”

The president said he was taking this step as part of his “declaration of a state of lawlessness” at the start of his term in mid 2016, with “part of the lawless elements are there inside the Bureau of Customs.”

Sought for comment, business leaders generally welcomed this latest step in Customs, but were cautious on how it would affect transactions in the country’s ports.

In a mobile phone message on Tuesday, American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines, Inc. Senior Adviser John D. Forbes noted that the development comes at a time of “importing peak period in November”.

“We welcome all reforms that reduce smuggling of illegal and underpaid goods. But exporters also need goods to flow smoothly since local materials are very insufficient and foreign markets need to receive orders on time,” Mr. Forbes said.

“We will need to understand what changes will result from the president’s announcement when more details are known.”

Philippine Exporters Confederation, Inc. President Sergio R. Ortiz-Luis, Jr. said Mr. Duterte was “obviously showing his will to clean up the Customs.”

At the same time, Mr. Ortiz-Luis said in a telephone interview that his “worry about the military, baka walang (they may not have) business [sense]…”

For the Philippine Chamber of Commerce of Industry (PCCI) President Ma. Alegria Sibal-Limjoco, Mr. Duterte’s move on the bureau “is a good start”, while Semiconductor & Electronics Industries in the Philippines Foundation, Inc. President Danilo C. Lachica who said he was “indifferent” to the use of soldiers for Customs work as long as they “are men of integrity.”

“We [expect] ease of doing business and expect no corruption,” Mr. Lachica said in a mobile phone message.”

The Bureau of Customs under former commissioner Isidro S. Lapeña, who last week was transferred to head the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, raised P434.6 billion as of September, up 34% from the P323.8 billion in 2017’s comparative nine months, beating its P417.5 billion target by four percent.

September was the eighth consecutive month that the bureau topped its monthly targets.

The bureau’s nine-month revenues are equivalent to 74.76% of a P581.29-billion full-year target.

The bureau’s collections were also 20.58% of the P2.11-trillion overall state revenues recorded in the January-September period, and 22.93% of the P1.90-trillion tax revenues that grew 16% year-on-year. — with Janina C. Lim and Elijah J. C. Tubayan


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