CUSTOMS Commissioner Isidro “Sid” Lapeña was a long-time policeman. A graduate of the Philippine Military Academy, Class of 1973, he spent over three decades in the police service before retiring in 2007.
These days, Lapeña is reprising his role, policing a government agency to arrest public perception of the bureau as the most corrupt in the government.
He’s certainly been busy at it.
Upon assuming office in late August, Lapeña served notice that he meant business, urging the public to conduct a citizen’s arrest on anyone using his name for gain.
Interviewed a few days later, he went a step further, daring those planning to welcome him to his new post with a bribe—a pasalubong (send-away gift) in street parlance–to do so, so they could be arrested. He then announced a “one-strike” policy against erring personnel, threatening with dismissal those found guilty of corruption.
In September, the commissioner reassigned the district collectors of the Port of Manila and the Manila International Container Port (MICP) for resorting to a discretionary process called benchmarking, in the valuation of goods in their respective areas of responsibility.
The valuation of goods serves as the basis for tariffs assessed on shipments. When the valuation deviates from a set schedule of costs, and is assessed at the collector’s discretion, corruption–now revealed to the public as the practice of giving tara (grease money) to expedite processing of shipments–tends to occur, Lapeña observed.
The purge surged in October, first with the arrest of an MICP employee for corruption. Later in the month, the Bureau of Customs sacked eight of its district officers and 30 of its section chiefs, who were reported to have similarly been resorting to benchmarking, or who failed to achieve their collection targets.
In November, Lapeña issued a memorandum keeping the bureau away from the handling of all suspected dangerous drugs (DDs) and controlled precursors and essential elements (CPECs) seized, and ceding instead the lead-agency status over these to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), which he headed prior to his Customs posting.
His clean-up campaign has been yielding results.
September saw the seizure of P24.4 million worth of abortion pills from Singapore, at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA); an estimated P10 million in luxury cars and auto parts from Hong Kong, at the MICP; P9 million worth of onions and carrots from China, at the MICP; a vessel worth an estimated P35 million, for using a falsified Brunei Indonesia Malaysia Philippines-East Asian Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) permit; P5 million in shabu, at the NAIA; and P2 million in glutinous rice and a skimming device and related paraphernalia, at the NAIA.
In October, the BoC seized P3million worth of goods smuggled from China, at the MICP; P2.5 million in misdeclared medical devices from Thailand, at NAIA; P2 billion in fake goods, at a building in Santa Cruz, Manila; and P25 million in smuggled goods, at the MICP.
In November, the Customs bureau confiscated 18 undervalued luxury cars worth P107 million, at the MICP; endangered wildlife–turtles and eels–en route to Taiwan, at NAIA; P3 billion in smuggled goods from China, in Tondo, Manila; 5,000 bags of smuggled rice from Malaysia worth P4.6 million, at the Port of Davao; and P24.2 million in luxury cars and steel products, at the MICP.
At the start of this month, the BoC intercepted P17.5 million in smuggled goods from China, at the Port of Manila.
With the Customs clean-up and enforcement in full swing, the country’s second-largest revenue generating agency has now been able to do just that: generate revenue.
In September, a month into Lapeña’s leadership, the Bureau of Customs registered a collection of P39.54 billion in import duties and taxes. The amount represented an 18.7-percent jump from its performance in the same month in 2016 and the agency’s best monthly collection yet since 2010. A milestone was also achieved that month as the BoC breached the P3-billion mark for daily collections–with the 28th and 29th yielding P3,316,889,000 and P3,193,804,000, respectively. The Customs chief attributed the increase in collection to a 20.92-percent rise in the valuation of goods, compared to September 2016.
The record performances of the bureau continued in October, with a collection of an even higher P42.18 billion.
November netted yet another milestone for BoC: its highest monthly revenue take ever of P46.47 billion and collected in just 19 working days.
It’s only been 100 days since the career policeman took command of the Customs bureau but already the dramatic rise in its revenue collections manifests an inspiring truth: With will, discipline and cooperation, there is hope that the Filipino can turn things around.
For the better.