Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo recently said the President has ordered the freezing of 64 high-ranking Customs officials and employees, meaning they would be put on “floating” status, pending the filing of administrative and criminal charges against them.
Crooks in the Customs bureau must be fired. If kept on floating status, they would still be getting their salaries doing nothing, becoming a burden to taxpayers. Once the heat is off, or perhaps when a new, ‘friendlier’ administration takes over, there is even a chance they could go back to their old jobs and resume their corrupt activities.
Time and again we have heard one president after another, administration after administration, boldly declaring they would go after crooked Customs officials and smuggling syndicates.
We need to see successful prosecutions and convictions against smugglers and their coddlers in government to send a strong message that corruption is not tolerated. Only then will people really believe the campaign against corruption in the Bureau of Customs.
The Fair Trade Alliance estimates foregone revenues from outright and technical smuggling at P237 billion yearly. Smuggling on petroleum products alone is conservatively estimated at P30 billion in revenue losses, according to the Management Association of the Philippines.
Think of how many schools, textbooks, hospitals and medicines such amount of money could have bought, or how many roads it could have built or improved. It’s a colossal financial loss to our government, one that could even buy our Armed Forces modern assets to better protect the country’s territorial waters.
When the President named Rey Leonardo Guerrero, his former Armed Forces chief of staff, as Customs chief in October last year, he told the latter to “double the zealousness” in ridding the agency of corruption.
If Guerrero cannot bust the smuggling syndicates in Customs, then he too should step aside. If he can’t do it, then he really should give the job to other people who can.
The Department of Finance’s Revenue Integrity Protection Service (DOF-RIPS) has shown that there are many ways to get corrupt Customs officials, even if they are well entrenched and there are supposedly powerful people behind them.
After conducting lifestyle checks, the DOF-RIPS was able to file cases against Customs personnel with the Office of the Ombudsman and the Civil Service Commission.
Crooked BOC employees were dismissed from service and indicted for such offenses like false declarations in their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth. They were found guilty of dishonesty and grave misconduct for their failure to declare a complete, true and detailed inventory of their real properties, their motor vehicles, business interests and other assets. Some were also slapped with accessory penalties of cancellation of their eligibility, perpetual disqualification from holding public office, and forfeiture of retirement benefits. Still others were slapped with perjury charges, for failure to secure the necessary travel authority for various trips abroad, for falsifying records and other unlawful acts and omissions.
The President has an arsenal of government agencies that could go after grafters upon his orders, and millions of intelligence funds at his disposal. If President Duterte really wants to, even with just three more years left in his term, he can cleanse the Customs bureau of grafters and smugglers.
While corruption doesn’t usually leave a paper trail, wealth is very hard to hide, and corrupt Customs officials are not exactly shy in flaunting their wealth.
Conducting a sweeping asset hunt on Customs officials, as the DOF-RIPS lifestyle checks has shown, would likely result in more high profile arrests and convictions.
If all else fails, then the President, with the help of his allies in Congress, could just abolish the Customs bureau and create a new agency that could better serve the public.
Image credits: Jimbo Albano