AS Malacañang pushed to unmask the “powerful forces” or padrinos who interfered in the operations of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) or are protecting its officials, former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile stepped out and admitted that he interceded in behalf of Port of Manila District Collector Roger Gatchalian, one of the so-called “three kings” of the bureau.
Enrile said that he worked for the promotion of Gatchalian but the senator maintained that he never called the Customs collector to seek any favor.
The senator said someone approached him to ask if he could help Gatchalian, whom he did not know at that time, get promoted.
“So I recommended him to be promoted to Collector VI. I did not recommend him for Manila. It was Malacañang that issued an appointment giving him the rank of Custom’s Collector VI,” Enrile explained.
The incident happened during the time of president Gloria Arroyo. Enrile said the Presidential Management Staff (PMS) could have made a mistake in appointing Gatchalian as district collector of the Port of Manila because he only wanted to be promoted as collector VI.
When Gatchalian was promoted in 2009, Enrile said he told the Customs official not to embarrass him and to work hard to increase the collection of the port of Manila.
Gatchalian’s rise was met with protests by some middle level officials who outranked the former. However, Gatchalian managed to stay in his post.
Mrs. Arroyo ordered his reassignment but it was not carried out allegedly because of the supposed “powerful forces” protecting him.
“I never called anybody in the Bureau of Customs. You can ask each one of all those people,” Enrile said.
Gatchalian resigned last week after Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon ordered all district and sub-port collectors to submit their courtesy resignations to give him a free hand to introduce reforms in the agency.
Senator Ralph Recto also admitted calling a Customs official but only to verify a complaint that his friend was being harassed by some bureau officials. He said the businessman wanted to pay the correct taxes for his shipment instead of giving “grease money.”
Malacañang on Tuesday called on individuals who can identify the supposed “powerful forces” at the BOC to come out and unmask them so that they can be held accountable for their acts.
Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani also challenged former Customs deputy commissioners Danilo Lim and Juan Lorenzo Tañada to name the powerful officials who meddled in the affairs of the BOC.
Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte urged Customs officials in the know to name names so that these padrinos can be investigated. A source earlier identified Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa as one of these “padrinos” but this was denied by Palace officials who maintained that Ochoa had nothing to do with any illegal transactions in the bureau.
Lim, who quit his post last week, admitted that “powerful forces” are interfering in the operation of BoC.
Biazon likewise confirmed that these influential individuals include senators, congressmen and relatives of some high officials.
Valte said these padrinos or godfathers should be unmasked. The government, she added, welcomes any evidence that would support the allegations.
“Sa amin po, wala po kaming problema kung mapapangalanan po ito. In fact, ‘nung nakausap ko nga po si ES Ochoa, ‘yon nga ho ‘yung sinasabi niya, na he would be more than happy to receive ‘yung mga ganitong information,” she added
Bacani meanwhile called on Lim and Tañada to name the powerful people who meddled in the bureau.
“Ang importante diyan ay ituro yung sinasabing mga shadowy figures na yan. Yun ang napakahalaga. Expose those figures to the light,” Bacani said. “At least makapag-name man lang sila ng ilan . . . Masisindak na ang mga yun.”
Tañada, who was the Deputy Commissioner for Internal Administration before he resigned last week, claimed that senators, congressmen, and relatives of government officials have called up his office to lobby for someone’s employment or promotion at the bureau.
Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero filed a resolution asking the appropriate Senate committee to investigate the controversy and have the meddling politicians identified.
Escudero, chairman of the Senate finance committee, wants the Blue Ribbon panel to head the investigation into the “padrino system.”
“This political patronage in the bureau’s system is a loud whisper that cannot and should not be ignored anymore. It has acculturated the entire agency, even its own officials already admitted to its existence. We in Congress should police our own ranks. Who else will look into this if we ourselves turn our eyes away from it?” the senator asked.
The lawmaker said that the Constitution clearly prohibits any form of intervention from members of Congress in any matter before any office of government for his pecuniary benefit.
He said Republic Act No. 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act defines persuading, inducing or influencing any another public officer as one of the corrupt practices punishable under the law.
Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano said that apart from the investigation, there is also a need for the BOC to undergo genuine reforms since a mere revamp in the agency is not enough.
He said that in order to have real change, the bureau needs to weed out corrupt officials and personnel.
Meanwhile, Carlos So, one of the two district collectors who defied Biazon’s resign order, met his staff on Tuesday and urged them to carry on and improve their collection.
Port of Iloilo collector Julius Premediles also did not quit his post, it was learned yesterday.
“Let’s move on. Lahat naman tayo mare-reshuffle. The commissioner has the authority to do that,” So was quoted as saying during the meeting.
A source said So did not submit a letter of resignation because “it is an option of a district collector.” “But it doesn’t mean that we are not supporting Commissioner Biazon,” the source added.
All district collectors are to meet with Biazon on Friday to discuss changes in the bureau.
WITH A REPORT FROM BENJIE L. VERGARA