Lawmakers on Thursday questioned Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon decision to hire professional athletes and coaches as intelligence officers and personnel of the Bureau of Customs.
Deputy Speaker Raneo Abu of Batangas, Representatives Robert Ace Barbers of Surigao del Norte and Dakila Cua of Quirino said the Customs Bureau employed at least 28 athletes and coaches under the Office of the Commissioner, Intelligence Group, Assessment and Operations Coordinating Group and Import and Assessment Service.
Among the 28 are 40 Philippine Basketball Association Greatest Players member Kenneth Duremdes, PBA Hall of Famer Marlou Aquino, former PBA players Eduard Joseph Feihl and Ronjay Enrile, former Metropolitan Basketball Association player Gherome Ejercito, former UST Tiger Michael Sumalinog, former Ateneo Lady Eagles Assistant Coach Parley Tupaz, Ateneo/Creamline Assistant Coach Sherwin Meneses, national team player/Creamline player Alyssa Valdez, former UP Lady Maroon Michiko Castañeda, former NU Lady Bulldog/Creamline player Rizza Mandapat and former Adamson player Fe Emnas.
“We can’t say at this point that they are not qualified, that’s why I asked the Customs Bureau for these people’s files. We need to scrutinize why they were designated in such a position,” Abu told reporters.
“I want to know their qualifications. If they are indeed qualified, then I will salute the Customs. We are not undermining them  here. It’s just that Commissioner Faeldon was blaming the corruption of (Bureau of) Customs to lawmakers for recommending people for posts in the Bureau, and yet it is not the lawmakers who recommended these athletes,” Abu added.
The Bureau of Customs fielded a team in last year’s V-League Reinforced Conference bannered by Valdez.
The Valdez-powered squad finished runner up to champions Pocari Sweat in its debut V-League stint.
Faeldon earlier claimed that some lawmakers had been pushing the bureau to appoint people of their liking and to facilitate the release of their shipments. The Customs chief, who had taken the heat for the release of P6.4 billion worth of illegal drugs, later apologized to lawmakers.
But Barbers was unimpressed.
“Faeldon tarnished the reputation of the entire House of Representatives by insinuating that lawmakers are endorsing promotions or employment to the bureau of certain personnel. Yet, it turned out he has employed sports people with dubious qualifications for their position,” Barbers said in a statement.
“Are these people qualified for their positions? How much are they paid? What kind of service are they performing for the BOC? Are they actually reporting for work? How many of these people are really qualified for intelligence work? We will find out the real score in our next hearing. No wonder, Customs bungled the handling of evidence in the seizure of the P6.4 billion worth of shabu smuggled right though their noses,” he added.
Abu and Cua agreed that an apology is not enough.
“We accept his apology but we have a job here,” Abu said.
“He is accusing the lawmakers of corrupting the Customs and yet it wasn’t the lawmakers who made endorsements of these athletes. He wasn’t being fair,” Cua said.
Deputy Speaker Romero Quimbo urged Faeldon to go after Customs personnel who pocket as much as P270 million every day as alleged by Mark Taguba, a customs broker.
“A whopping P270 million per day goes to the pockets of BOC employees and officials on container shipments alone. This should test Commissioner Faeldon’s leadership and resolve to stand by his word to clean up Customs,” Quimbo said in a statement.
“The shabu smuggling and the revelations of kickbacks under Faeldon’s watch provide him the impetus to tighten the reins on his subordinates. We can only hope that the Commissioner is up to the task,” he added.
Senators Francis Escudero and Juan Edgardo Angara also on Thursday dared Faeldon to identify the alleged politicians who tried to meddle into the operations of the bureau.
“He should name names and not issue a shotgun accusation. If indeed it is corruption, then he should name them and file cases against them if he is indeed serious in cleaning up his bureau,” Escudero said.
Angara said Faeldon should expose those asking for favors.
“Appointing someone is not necessarily illegal unless the person recommended will commit illegal acts,” he said.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier said he will wait for Congress’ report on its investigation into the smuggling of P6.4-billion worth of shabu before he acts on calls to remove Faeldon.
With Bernadette E. Tamayo