Customs menagerie: The debasement of a basic government function



First word
TO understand why it matters and what we are losing when we place the customs authority in the hands of incompetents and perfidious officials, let us begin with the basics. Government has three basic functions:

1.The first is administration, which refers to the control or management of government as an organization;

2. The second is the maintenance of law, order and justice; and

3. The third is the collection of revenue.

Customs is a key part of the third function, wherein it assumes almost as much importance as the internal revenue authority. Without revenues from the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs (BoC), government cannot fund its many essential activities and services.

Customs is an authority or agency in a country that is responsible for collecting tariffs and for controlling the flow of goods, including animals, transports, personal effects, and hazardous items, into and out of a country. Each country has its own laws and regulations for the import and export of goods, which its customs authority enforces.

Customs is different from immigration, which denotes government’s monitoring of the movement of people into and out of the country.

After being reduced to stupor by the hearings of the two houses of Congress on the drug smuggling scandal at Customs, I resolved to study the basics of customs administration by looking up my handbooks on public administration, public finance and comparative government.

Debasement of customs administration
To debase means: to lower in character or quality; to ruin utterly in character or quality; and, to make impure, to corrupt.

By calling the Bureau of Customs a menagerie, I mean 1) to call attention to the clueless characters who people and run the agency today; and 2) to express my repulsion at the decades-long debasement of our customs authority by acts of corruption and abuse by its top officials.

Watching the House of Representatives and the Senate conduct their respective hearings on the drug smuggling incident, I wondered whether these televised inquiries will ever end. I weep at the enormous expense of energy and resources on this inquisition. I could not tell who were the worse for wear – the men and women of the customs bureau, or the ladies and gentlemen of Congress.

After weeks of probing, the twin inquiry has essentially arrived at some headline-worthy revelations, but nothing yet that is incontrovertible. Many questions remain. Among the things that I have seen are:

1. Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, a former Marine officer and mutineer alongside Antonio Trillanes, is still ensconced in his office, to which he was appointed on June 30 last year.

2. Magdalo, the putschist party of Senator Trillanes, has virtually taken over the bureau. Former mutineers were appointed to some of the most sensitive posts in the bureau.

3. Faeldon centralized all powers under him by creating a command and control center in the bureau, without securing approval from the secretary of finance.

With centralization, Faeldon also centralized the graft in his office. His name has turned up at the top of lists of officials allegedly receiving bribes from brokers and facilitators.

4. Faeldon was so supreme in his fief, he even hired pro basketball players to man customs posts, with the hope of burnishing the public relations of the bureau.

5. There’s no honor also among coup conspirators. Faeldon and Trillanes clashed bitterly at the Senate hearing on Tuesday. Party-list representative Gary Alejano says Faeldon is a drag on the reputation of Magdalo and its agenda.

Awaiting committee reports
Next week, the House committee on dangerous drugs is slated to submit its committee report and recommendations to President Duterte and the House Speaker. Its principal recommendation will be the dismissal by the President of Faeldon.

But the Malacañang spokesman has created some uncertainty by announcing that President Duterte is still undecided on what to do with Faeldon. He will wait for the committee reports of both houses.

The Senate is nowhere close to finishing its inquiry, let alone its committee report. After a furious and eventful hearing on Tuesday, the blue-ribbon committee said it will reconvene the hearing on Tuesday, August 22.

At the close of the Senate hearing, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) arrested the middleman of the principal drug smuggler suspect, a certain Kenneth Dong. He was arrested for the alleged crime of rape. Dong and eight others were also charged by the NBI for the illegal P6.4-billion drug shipment.

Nobody knows when, if ever, Sen. Richard Gordon can get down to writing the committee report on his blue-ribbon committee’s inquiry into the massive drug shipment that went through the green lane of customs without a hitch.

Dong’ s Senate compadrazgo
This is where opposition senators Risa Hontiveros and Kiko Pangilinan will show some life.

In the preparation of the Senate committee report, the nation will hear from Kenneth Dong’s kumadres and kumpadres in the Senate. The list includes Hontiveros, Pangilinan, the LP president, and two others. They allegedly received monetary contributions from Dong (drug traffickers?) during last year’s election campaign. The pictures of Dong with the senators can fill an entire album.

I can already see Sen. Leila de Lima smiling. Frailty loves company.

The congressional inquiry into the drug shipment is always under threat of being diverted toward a radically different direction.

1. Before the hearings could begin at the House, the inquiry turned into a debate on whether Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez is an imbecile or not—because of the claims of Faeldon’s chief of staff, lawyer Mandy Anderson.

2. Now, the inquiry threatens to mutate into an investigation of the President’s son, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte and his possible involvement in the drug shipment. There is a photo of Paolo and Dong circulating in various media.

You could go mad watching this spectacle. As I have suggested, the customs bureau is now more like a zoo.


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