UNLESS President Benigno Aquino 3rd appoints an outsider to head the Bureau of Customs (BOC), two BOC deputy commissioners are in the running for the post soon to be vacated by Ruffy Biazon, according to sources at the bureau.
The sources told The Manila Times that if Biazon’s replacement will come from the present crop of BOC officials, it would be a toss up between Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence group Jesse Dellosa and Deputy Commissioner for Assessment and Operations Coordinating Group Agaton Teodoro Uvero. The two officials were appointed by the President to the BOC in September this year. Dellosa replaced Danilo Lim, who resigned weeks after Aquino lambasted Customs officials for their failure to curb smuggling.
Biazon tendered his irrevocable resignation on Monday, days after he was charged with malversation and graft at the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly pocketing kickbacks from the release of his Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) or pork barrel when he was a congressman.
Dellosa, who retired early this year as Armed Forces chief, is being criticized for issuing alert and hold orders for containers suspected to contain smuggled goods, delaying the release of shipments that infuriated importers.
The former AFP chief had imposed a no-take policy at the BOC and has pledged to stop the payola system in the bureau.
However, Times sources said Uvero has the upper hand for being the closest to Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima and Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares, whom he worked with for many years.
Uvero, it was learned, is an international trade, indirect tax (customs), logistics and supply chain expert. Since 2002, he has worked on various customs technical assistance programs funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
He was involved in various USAID-funded customs projects such as the drafting of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) and the preparation of the Post Entry Audit operating manual and the DOJ-BOC customs prosecution manual. From 2007 to 2009, he was the Immigration-Customs-Quarantine (ICQ) project consultant of the Subic-Clark Economic Corridor (CDC/SBMA).
Uvero was also formerly an international trade and customs consultant of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Consulting, during which time he did consulting work for multinational companies in the Philippines and occasionally, across the Southeast Asia region.
As a supply chain specialist, he lectures at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business-CCE and BayanTrade Academy on International Supply Chain Management.
A lawyer and a licensed customs broker, he has degrees in Philosophy and Law from UP Diliman and is an alumnus of East West Center (Hawaii). He also took a course on Transfer Pricing at World Trade Institute, Pace University (New York). He has an Advance Certificate in International Purchasing and Supply Chain Management (Adv.Cert.IPSCM) from International Trade Centre (UNCTAD/WTO).
In the last 10 years, Uvero has provided advisory services and trainings for most of the Top 1,000 corporations.
Dellosa, on the other hand, spent most of his professional life in the military.
Sources said that a powerful clique in the Aquino administration headed by Purisima was reportedly behind efforts to ease out Biazon. According to them, the Finance chief, who has supervisory powers over the Customs bureau, was not in good terms with Biazon, which was the reason why the latter had to go directly to the President instead of coursing his resignation through his immediate boss.
“Biazon is the President’s personal choice. But there are others itching to get his post,” the source told the Times.
Besides Purisima, the “clique” also reportedly include former BOC chiefs Angelito Alvarez and Bert Lina, who now act as the Finance chief’s “consultants.”
The three, according to the source, share “interlocking interests” at the Bureau and were among the biggest contributors to Aquino’s campaign kitty in the 2010 presidential elections.
“It’s an open secret in the bureau that they are ‘business associates,’” the source added.
The three “partners” were reportedly behind the filling up of positions that were affected by Biazon’s recent decision to realign and reassign personnel.
They said Alvarez and Lina were instrumental in the appointment of Dellosa, Uvero, Primo Aguas as deputy commissioner for Management Information Systems and Technology Group; Director Myrna Chua as deputy commissioner for Internal Administration Group; and Finance Assistant Secretary Ma. Edita Tan as deputy commissioner for the Revenue Collection Monitoring Group.
When he resigned, Biazon mentioned powerful individuals who were affected by the reforms he was instituting in the bureau. He did not elaborate.
With Biazon out, the Times source said Purisima now has the free hand to select from his own “men” the former’s replacement.
Biazon however said that the President should appoint someone who has integrity and who will not easily cave in to temptation.
“Ang kailangan niya (Aquino) iyong may integrity, hindi titiklop in the face of temptation kasi matututunan naman ang Customs. Ang customs commissioner ang papel ay mag-oversee ng agency na di naman collector na kailangang matutunan ang intricacies at technicalities. Of course, ang kailangan ay solid ang integrity at tiwala mismo ng Pangulo (He needs someone who has integrity, who will not give in to temptation because the job of Customs chief can be learned. He should appoint someone with solid integrity),” Biazon said.
He added that a change of personnel and the implementation of reforms may end the “robust” corruption at the BOC.
“Sa ibang bansa nagawa iyon. By adopting modern procedures nabawasan or natanggal na buo yung corruption,” the outgoing Customs chief said.
“Kung mag reform lang sa hanay ng customs at nandun pa rin ang baluktot na broker at baluktot na importer, tutuksuhin lang nila iyong papalit na customs (chief) na bago,” he explained.
“The environment/system is stil the same kaya nga ang paniiwala ko na kasama sa pagpapalit ng tao at reporma ng tao, reporma ng system para mabago ang laro. Di lang bago player pero bago ang laro kailangan natin. Kailangan konting panahon, at kung lahat mag agree sa ganitong approach kaya ito,” he added.
Not leaving LP
Biazon’s father, Rep. Rodolfo Biazon of Muntinlupa City, said that he will not leave the ruling Liberal Party chaired by the President because of the resignation of his son.
“I’m staying with the Liberal Party. Let’s not drag party affiliation to the issue. I am not disappointed in the administration because the President is after reform, and I support that,” the older Biazon, Chairman of the House Committee on National and Defense, told reporters.
The Biazons have earlier claimed that the younger Biazon was included in the charge sheet for the P10 billion PDAF scam at the last minute.
“The report, from the information we got from different directions, is that he wasn’t included in the charge sheet. That was a day before the announcement of filing of charges. Something happened between the night before the announcement and the day of the filing of charges. A check of the circumstances that led to the inclusion is something,” the older Biazon argued.
“I have faith in my son. He is certain that he can clear his name. We have faith in the judicial process. I don’t think his political career is done. Let’s wait for the resolution of the issue,” he added.
WITH REPORTS FROM ROBERTZON RAMIREZ AND LLANESCA T. PANTI