WHEN results of the performance last year of the Bureau of Customs (BoC) arrived early in January 2018, the results reaffirmed that the government agency tasked with collecting customs revenues from imported goods, was on the right track under newly-installed Customs Commissioner Isidro “Sid” Lapeña: it had surpassed its monthly collection targets in the last three months of 2017—an accomplishment that can undoubtedly be credited to the new leadership, which only took over in late August.
Buoyed by collections in the last quarter, the Bureau closed 2017 just 2.2 percent shy of its revenue target for the year.
The narrow shortfall has emboldened the Bureau of Customs with a renewed resolve to do better in 2018.
The government agency turns 116 this month. And already the weeks running up to the milestone have been busily spent making sure this year will not be remembered with “almosts” and “could-have-beens.”
Campaign against corruption
Lapeña started 2018 training his sights on corruption, taking the perennial problem of the bureau head-on by ordering the creation of the Interim Internal Affairs and Integrity Unit (IIAIU).
The IIAIU’s prime mandate is to stop BoC officials and employees from illicit acts and from amassing ill-gotten wealth. It is empowered to investigate complaints against BoC personnel and gather evidence in support of an open investigation; conduct motu propio inquiries of incidents where evidence in the prosecution of smuggling cases have been compromised, tampered with, obliterated, or lost while in the custody of Customs staff; and conduct lifestyle checks.
Since Lapeña took over, some 641 personnel movements have already been conducted.
On the brokers’ and importers’ side, the Customs Commissioner issued a memorandum requiring the applications for accreditation, suspension, revocation, cancellation, and reactivation, to now secure the approval of the commissioner, upon recommendation of the account management office.
A separate memorandum was also released limiting the number of authorized representatives of a customs brokers transacting with the BoC.
Stepping up the drive vs. smuggling
In early January, the Customs Commissioner inspected nearly P13 million pesos worth of smuggled goods and witnessed the condemnation of an estimated P4 million pesos in fake goods.
In the middle of the month, he led the turnover to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) of close to P130 million in dangerous drugs from Pakistan seized from the Surface Mail Exchange Department (SMED) at the Port Area—currently the largest haul of its kind at the SMED.
This was followed by a surprise inspection by the Customs Commissioner of cargo at the Manila International Container Port (MICP). The spot check is part of the BOC’s intensified campaign against smuggling.
At the close of January, the Bureau filed charges against two companies and their brokers for attempting to smuggle in P4-million worth of used clothing and rags, or what is commonly known as ukay-ukay, at the Port of Davao.
Visiting the troops at the field
Before 2017 ended, the new Customs Commissioner saw to it that he visited the Bureau’s offices around the country and meet its personnel. He was able to visit 17 collection districts and ten subports, and listened to the concerns of the staff there.
Lapeña has since promoted 566 Customs employees.
Also, in January, the Bureau of Customs reinforced their ranks with the signing of seven additional lawyers and 24 Customs operations officers. He has also hired three new employees, in a bid to enhance personnel incentives and compensation benefits.
The accomplishments of the Bureau of Customs under Commissioner Isidro Lapeña have not gone unnoticed.
Last month, civic group Kapisanan ng mga Social Media Broadcasters expressed their support for the Bureau, and launched their own information-gathering campaign against illicit trade at the BoC.
The move was welcomed by Lapeña, who noted the importance of community involvement to their campaign to bring change to the Bureau.
Earlier, the Collectors Association of the Philippines—the group of customs collectors of the BoC—signed a manifesto to show support for their Customs commissioner. In their manifesto, the collectors called cited his brand of “simple yet sincere and calming leadership” and described Five-Point Priority Program a “shot in the arm” for the Bureau.
To carry out the marching orders, Commissioner Lapeña rolled out his Five-Point Priority Program:
1. Stop corruption
2. Increase Revenue Earnings
3. Ensure Trade Facilitation
4. Strengthen Anti-Smuggling Efforts
5. Enhance Personnel Incentives, Rewards System and Compensation Benefits
As the Bureau of Customs turns 116, it is emboldened by its achievements in 2017. It has vowed to achieve its targets this year—and has gotten off to an inspired start in 2018, with a renewed resolve to do just that.
Happy Anniversary to the Bureau of Customs!