IN the melodramatic, megalomaniacal fashion of the Magdalo that one often hears from his comrade Sen. Antonio Trillanes 4th, Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon told a congressional hearing: ““I am a soldier. I do not treat this position as a job, but as a mission. A soldier does not quit on his mission.”
But after a year at the post, and after filling the Bureau of Customs (BoC) with nearly a hundred of his fellow putschists and totally controlling the agency, Faeldon has failed in his mission, as the data shows: The bureau’s revenues have remained stagnant.
Worse, under Faeldon, rather than in some far-flung coast, the Port Area in Manila that the BoC guards has become the gate through which shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride, the most widely used illegal drug in the Philippines) enters the country. The P6.4 billion shabu shipment that went through the agency in May is clearly only the tip of the iceberg, and wouldn’t have been intercepted if authorities in Xiamen, China, had not tipped off the government. How much more shabu has gone through the BoC that we don’t really know?
Faeldon should, like a gallant soldier, tell his Commander in Chief that he has failed in his mission, and as Roman centurions did in ancient times, fall on his sword— metaphorically, that is.
The BoC’s main task is to generate revenues through duties and taxes on imports. Faeldon has been fooling the nation, and the President, by issuing press releases that claim that the bureau has been performing phenomenally in this task. For instance, the BoC crowed late last year that its November revenues exceeded its target, reflecting “a better leadership performance in the past five months in 2016, covering July to November.” That seems to be the last time it can ever boast of such performance.
What Faeldon hasn’t been telling us is that even if he and his Magdalo boys do nothing, the BoC’s revenues, as well as those of the BIR, normally rise every year from the prior year’s level—unless there is a severe economic crisis—because of the usual increase in imports every year, especially of oil, the taxes for which have always been a major part of Customs’ revenues.
To account for increased imports and increased economic activity, tax-generating agencies’ real performance is measured in terms of the revenues as a percent of the nominal GDP, called the tax effort.
Finance department statistics show that for the period July 2016, when Faeldon was placed in his post, to December, the tax effort was at 2.7 percent, the same level as it was in the comparable period in 2015, and even lower than the 2.6 percent in 2014.
Has the BoC ever performed so well that its effort exceeded 3 percent? Yes, and while those who know him will be incredulous, the BoC, when it was headed by career bureaucrat Napoleon Morales during President Arroyo’s administration, hit a high of 3.4 percent in its tax effort. The Customs bureau under Fidel Ramos’ Guillermo Parayno even achieved a 5 percent tax effort, a record, in 1993.
Another measure to determine whether the BoC is performing is the ratio of revenues to imports as shown in the following table:
Under Faeldon, the BoC’s revenues have actually fallen in real terms. The situation really is much worse than the table portrays. The bureau’s revenues had already fallen steeply immediately before Faeldon assumed control of the bureau, as this period was an election year, and the figures show that the ruling party had milked it for its election financing. If BoC’s revenues during this period (July 2015 to May 2016) at a moderate 10 percent to total $8,498, Faeldon’s tenure would be so obviously a failure.
It was a mistake for Duterte to have thought that Faeldon and his Magdalo boys would be honest and at the same time tough enough to cleanse the bureau of corruption. Even if they were honest, their expertise has been in making war—and plotting coups d’etat—while Customs administration has become a discipline that colleges in the West have been offering masters and even Ph.D. degrees on.
Worse, Faeldon has proven to be so full of himself, believing that he is God’s gift to the nation, for ridding it of corruption, a trait that rubbed off his arrogant assistant, the bad-mouthing barrister Mandy Anderson of “imbecile” fame. Faeldon’s bigheadedness is proving to be his downfall, as when he ignored pleas by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) to correctly handle the shabu they had seized so it could be used both for tracking the mastermind who smuggled it into the country and for using it as evidence in the courts. As the PDEA officer angrily pointed out:“Nagmamagaling kasi si Faeldon.”
And who did Faeldon consult for legal advice on the raid conducted on the shabu shipment that had earlier passed his agency? Without blinking an eye, and as if there could be nothing wrong in what he did, Faeldon told the Congress hearing: “I consulted my fiancée,” whom he had brought with him to the raid. What the 52-year old mutineer didn’t tell Congress was that his 25-year old fiancee became a lawyer only last year, Something must have come loose in Faeldon’s head during those years of detention and as a fugitive from the law.
There is even much worse news. Unimpeachable sources have informed me that either the broker or the Customs official Faeldon fired—I was not told precisely who—shocked the senators in the executive session about how corruption in the bureau is at its highest levels, with graft money approximating the P270 million that Sen. Panfilo Lacson has claimed, based on his own sources. Faeldon and his Magdalo boys had claimed in 2003 and 2007 that they undertook their coup attempts because government then, and the military as well, were so corrupt – a charge they never managed to prove.
If ever Duterte fires Faeldon and his gang of bungling mutineers, I hope for their sake, they don’t occupy a five-star hotel and call for an uprising, as they did in 2003 and 2007. I don’t think Duterte will be as kind as President Arroyo in dealing with them. Faeldon should content himself with being chief of security of some bigtime law firm.
Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao