• Bert Lina takes the helm

    Customs chief caves in, quits

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    OUT OF THE PIT Customs Commissioner John Phillip Sevilla heads for the exit after his news conference where he announced his resignation.  PHOTO BY RENE DILAN

    OUT OF THE PIT Customs Commissioner John Phillip Sevilla heads for the exit after his news conference where he announced his resignation.
    PHOTO BY RENE DILAN

    Political pressures, including one allegedly from the influential Iglesia ni Cristo (Church of Christ or INC),  have forced Customs Commissioner John Phillip Sevilla to resign his post on Thursday.

    Sevilla announced his resignation in a news conference. He said his resignation would become effective as soon as Malacañang names his successor.

    Sevilla disclosed that he personally met with President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Wednesday during which he handed over his resignation.

    “My resignation will be effective as soon as there will be a replacement,” he said, declining to identify his successor.

    A few hours after Sevilla’s news conference, Malacañang released a facsimile of a letter signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.  accepting Sevilla’s resignation.

    The Palace also released a copy of the appointment letter of Alberto David Lina as the new Customs commissioner. Both documents were dated April 23.

    Lina was Customs chief during the Arroyo administration, but he was replaced when he joined the “Hyatt 10” or the group of Cabinet members who resigned their posts to  join the call for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s resignation at the height of the “Hello Garci” scandal in 2004.

    Lina, brother of former senator Jose “Joey” Lina, was president of the Aircargo Forwarders of the Philippines Inc., an industry association of airfreight forwarders, and was president of Air21, a cargo forwarding company.

    The resigned Customs chief admitted encountering difficulties in implementing reforms at the waterfront’s premier revenue-generating agency.

    “Kapag gawin mo ang tama sa Customs, may risk kang kahaharapin [There’s always a risk when you do something right at Customs],” he said.

    According to Sevilla, his less than two-year stint at the waterfront has introduced him to a lot of “rude awakening,” saying that things considered immoral and unimaginable in the outside world were normal in the Bureau of Customs.

    A Department of Finance undersecretary, he was appointed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd as officer-in-charge of the BOC in December 2013, after then-Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon resigned.

    Biazon, a former Muntinlupa City (Metro Manila)  representative in Congress, was forced to resign after the Department of Justice filed charges against him and 33 other incumbent and former congressmen in connection with the alleged pork barrel scam.

    But despite his bad experiences, Sevilla said he has no regrets because it is an honor working for the government and for the people.

    “My only regret is not [being]able to finish what I have started,” he added.

    Sevilla, however, clarified that his decision to step down was voluntary and was made primarily because of the political presssures.

    “I did my best. I fervently hope that my successor can run the bureau much better and smoother than it is today. He or she needs to do a better job than me because I believe that the straight path here in Customs is in grave danger,” he said in Filipino.

    Whoever would be appointed Customs commissioner, according to Sevilla, should ensure the success of the tuwid na daan (straight path), referring to the President’s battlecry against graft and corruption in  the government.

    He said he felt and sensed telltale signs of the ugly face of politics creeping back into the system,  one of the reasons why the BOC has been branded as  among the most corrupt agencies of the government.

    “In the past weeks, I’ve spoken to friends at the BOC and we all agreed that the atmosphere in the agency is politically charged… there are political factors moving in the background,” Sevilla added, also in Filipino.

    “When I started working here, I did everything to insulate the BOC from politicking but in the past months, it’s becoming very difficult and it might be impossible to hold on to the reforms in the coming months.”

    He disclosed that there are people who have been dropping the name of the INC in forcing him to appoint Teodoro Raval, the incumbent chief of the BOC’s Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) division, as head of the Enforcement and Security Services (ESS). The ESS chief  has direct supervision and control over the 400-strong BOC security force.

    “Walang ibang dahilan na binibigay para sa appontment ni Attorney Raval. Malakas ang tulak na ma-promote sa matataas na posisyon sa Customs [There are no other reasons given for Attorney Raval’s appointment. There’s a strong push to have him promoted to a top position at Customs],” he said.

    “This is all second- hand information. Nobody has approached me from Iglesia ni Cristo but its name is being used [in Customs]. In fact  I doubt if it is really the INC, but in all my conversations about this, the name of Iglesia ni Cristo is always used.

    But just the same, even if it is the INC or whoever it is, I don’t believe in the political basis of appointment in Customs,” Sevilla  added.

    “I have nothing against any religious group. I’m not sure, I don’t believe that it is really the Iglesia Ni Cristo but it is the only name that is always mentioned,” he said.

    Customs sources have told The Manila Times that Raval’s appointment as ESS chief was approved and endorsed by Malacanang last December but Sevilla opposed it.

    Sevilla neither confirmed nor denied reports that Raval’s appointment has been approved.

    “I don’t talk about my conversations with the President. I met with the President, I submitted my resignation,” the Customs chief said.

    But aside from the Raval case,  Sevilla also admitted that there were other  political incidents that led to his resignation  but declined to elaborate.

    “I don’t want to compromise ongoing investigation, but there are other signs.”

    “It is my principle that politics and principle peddling should have no place in Customs. If you give way to one, how will you know that it would be the last?” he said.

    “I am only being consistent. Its either you accede [to influence peddlers], in which case you say goodbye to reform, or  you won’t accede, zero. What is important is you are consistent,” Sevilla pointed out.

    A Malacanang spokesman conceded that corruption still persists in the BOC because the agency’s problem is “institutional” and many of the agency’s processes  are still susceptible to “personal influence.”

    Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said  Sevilla’s revelations about the corruption, bribery and intimidation he faced at the bureau only showed that the agency needs to undergo “systemic reforms.”

    “What is needed here is the institutional strengthening of the Bureau of Customs,” he told reporters.

    Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said Sevilla should go all out and name the political personalities who have forced him to vacate his post. He  urged the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate Sevilla’s revelations.

    “I think an investigation is in order and he should identify those political personalities pressuring him. What is the motive of these personalities?” the senator added.

    Sen. Paolo Benigno Aquino 4th  said Sevilla’s resignation is unfortunate because  it was during his stint at the BOC  when fruits of  reforms he had instituted were realized, especially battling smuggling and improving revenue collection.

    “The government lost an outstanding public servant with the resignation of Bureau of Customs Commissioner John Phillip P. Sevilla,” he noted.

    WITH JOEL M. SY EGCO AND JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA

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    14 Comments

    1. Arturo borgonos on

      We lost a very big opportunity that a trusted man resigned his post as commissioner of the most corrupt agency in the government. He started a tuwing daan matuwid theory of our president. How come the president accepted his resignation? We thought good government personnel are given the chance to continue their job to correct the wrongdoing. Is this another side of POLITICS?

      REPLY: No, sir. It’s just that this administration’s Tuwid na Daan has been a sham from the beginning.

    2. Ang mga tanging corrupt lang ang nakakapag-titiis sa kasulukuyang gobyerno.. dahil sa pagnanakaw sila nabubuhay…kapit tuko pa rin sa kanilang posisyon…mabuhay po kayo Ginoong Sevilla..

    3. Vicente Penetrante on

      There is some inconsistencies here. BS Aquino the 3rd is noted for protecting his secretaries and friends, like Alcala, Abad and Purisima. How come he is very obliging of the resignation of Sevilla?

    4. Bureau of Customs is one of the most corrupt departments of BS Aquino’s administration. The Philippine government loses billions of dollars worth of revenues due to the unbridled smuggling at the ports.

      Instead of keeping John Sevilla who seems to be reforming the Bureau of Customs, Sevilla resigned due to pressures from politicians and allegedly from INC. There is a rumor too that Malacanang wants to make the Customs a cash cow for the 2016 elections. This government is utterly corrupt. Shameless!

      • with that revelation, the president should have immediately order an investigation. sabi niya tuwid na daan, why did he accept his resignation? with that i dont believe that ninoy is not corrupt. some are do the corrupting for him.

      • “Bureau of Customs is one of the most corrupt departments of BS Aquino’s administration”. Not only among the most corrupt but on top of the corrupt Office in the country. They have broken the law of simple math by probing that Php100,000 minus Php50,000 is equal to Php5,000. How 100,000 – 50,000 = 5,000. The custom port collector will appraise the value of taxable imported good. If it is found that the tax due is 100,000 he will negotiate with the importer to reduce it to 50,000 which the tax payer is very much happy to comply with the payment to his favor. But the receipt he will receive is only 5,000. Both the tax payer and the custom collector cheated the government. Will the law makers pass a bill to punish both cheaters.

    5. This reflects the reality of the Pnoy Aquino administration across the board.
      Corruption, and patronage politics continues unabated, and Pnoy Aquino is to weak to even stop his KKK pillaging the coffers.
      Good on Sevilla for standing by his principles.
      Shame on the others for being both corrupt and incompetence.
      A fish rots from the head, and there is a stink being emitted from Malacanang.

    6. Venerando Desales on

      If the problem in the agency is institutional, then overhaul it! There are times that even if the head is efficient and effective; yet, he is still overwhelmed by the corrupt system and the culture in the agency. This means that the subordinates have become so powerful and influential than the head. Then the saying, ‘If you can’t beat them, join them!’, becomes the norm.These subordinates should be rotated, just like the old practice, to other agencies to prevent building up clientele and too much familiarization with key players. The principle of conflict of interests should be given more teeth! The question of whether or not the job applicant represents conflicting interest should be made clear in the job application form so that if he falsifies it, he can be charged of perjury. This will also deter the applicant from committing wrongdoing and encourage informers to report conflicting interests.

    7. apolonio reyes on

      Sa simula ng Pnoy administration sa panungkulan ni Comm. Alvarez, 2000- 40 footer Container Vans ang nawala na parang bula, na hangang sa sulat na ito, ay hindi pa mahanap, Bakit sa lalaki nitong 2000-40 footer container vans o mahigit sa 3/4 hectare ay hindi makita maski na pahanap o hindi pinahanap sa NBI? Sunod nagsi Resign si Biazon at Sevilla sa dahilan sa KURRUPTION SA BOC. Ito ba ang daan matuwid ni Pnoy?
      Ito BOC ay maliit na MAMASAPANO na ang TAO NA APPOINT ay iniwan sa gitna ng laban ng MALACANANG gaya ng 44 SAF FALLEN HEROES, Di ba SirP?

    8. Mabuhay ka Commissioner John Phillip Sevilla you did your best you just didnt get the right support.Hopefully the next President will be a strong leader not like the coward we have now and will take you back as the head BOC again so you will be able to complete the reform you started.

    9. This is the problem when the President dont have the iron hand to support his people who wants to do the right they are abandoned and betrayed.

      • “Bureau of Customs is one of the most corrupt departments of BS Aquino’s administration”. Not only among the most corrupt but on top of the corrupt Office in the country. They have broken the law of simple math by probing that Php100,000 minus Php50,000 is equal to Php5,000. How 100,000 – 50,000 = 5,000. The custom port collector will appraise the value of taxable imported good. If it is found that the tax due is 100,000 he will negotiate with the importer to reduce it to 50,000 which the tax payer is very much happy to comply with the payment to his favor. But the receipt he will receive is only 5,000. Both the tax payer and the custom collector cheated the government. Will the law makers pass a bill to punish both cheaters.