Businessman Alberto David Lina on Friday vowed to continue reforming the Bureau of Customs (BOC) as he was once again sworn in as the agency’s commissioner, replacing John Phillip “Sunny” Sevilla, who resigned the previous day.
Lina, who was Customs commissioner from February to July 2005, found himself back in his old seat after Malacañang accepted Sevilla’s resignation on Thursday. The elder brother of former senator Joey Lina was among the senior government officials who bolted the Arroyo administration amid a vote-rigging controversy in 2014, which was better known as the “Hello Garci” scandal.
Lina founded and headed 19 companies under the Lina Group of Companies, including Airfreight 2100 Inc., U-Freight Inc. and U-Ocean Inc. He was long-time waterfront industry stalwart as long-time president of Aircargo Forwarders of the Philippines Inc. from the late 1980s to the 1990s. He was also into sports, having been chairman of the defunct Metropolitan Basketball Association, and owning a professional basketball team in the PBA.
Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima administered the oath of office to Lina before handing over the agency’s colors surrendered by Sevilla.
In his farewell speech, Sevilla said he is confident that the reforms he started at the BOC will continue under Lina’s leadership.
He pointed out that the bureau is losing only one “Customs reformer” with his resignation.
“If there are a thousand people pushing for reforms here at Customs, you only lost one. But you gained another reformer in incoming Commissioner Bert Lina,” he said in Filipino.
“I’m very confident that you will all continue what we started.”
Sevilla on Thursday told reporters he was leaving the waterfront agency as he could not longer stand the political pressure and widespread corruption hounding the BOC.
He cited efforts by certain people allegedly dropping the name of the influential Iglesia ni Kristo (INC or Church of Christ) to push for the appointment of Customs official Teddy Raval to the sensitive Enforcement and Security Services post.
Lina promised Sevilla in his acceptance speech that he will continue the reforms the latter implemented during his stint in office.
“Truly, as Secretary Cesar [Purisima] says, I have big shoes to fill and I intend to carry on the good governance and reforms he has started,” he said.
Turning to Sevilla, Lina added, “Commissioner Sunny, don’t you worry. I will continue what you’ve started.”
He laid out a five-point program to prepare the BOC for a much bigger challenge.
“As a keen observer of Customs, from the outside looking in, I have many ideas I think will make our processes more efficient and systematic.
“Now that I am here, I believe my extensive experience in the private sector will be tested. The primary task assigned to us is not easy, with the end in view of increasing efficiency and improved revenue generation,” Lina said.
According to Lina, the bigger challenge ahead is preparing for the “Asean (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) integration,” which is expected to increase trade and economic activity among Asean-member countries.
He pointed out that the initiative is no longer just a concept but already a reality and thus, it is imperative that the Philippines should be prepared for the impending expansion.
“We have no other recourse. We must be ready. It is time to engage our ‘bosses’ in an environment revitalized with the spirit of true and efficient service,” Lina said.
He admitted that corruption remains as one of the biggest stumbling blocks to economic growth and prosperity, but it can be defeated with a combination of factors, including increased awareness, appropriate technology and resolute action against violators.
“We will continue to be as transparent with our data. We will light up the darkest corners where this malady lingers. We will not abandon the campaign to eliminate it. In fact, we will expand it and pursue the campaign with more determination,” he stressed. “…it will continue to be a centrepiece of our work philosophy here in the Bureau of Customs.
“We must transform the bureau into a proactive organization. It should anticipate local and global changes and always be ready to confront the challenges that come with it. We must be consistent and reliable partner of industry,” Lina said.
A lawmaker has asked the new leadership of the Bureau of Customs to look into the reported technical smuggling happening at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) as well as other ports.
The racket reportedly robs the government of billions of pesos in revenues.
At the House of Representatives, lawmakers are not warm to Lina’s appointment, with one of them saying Sevilla should have stayed in his post.
Deputy Majority Leader Sherwin Tugna of Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption party-list noted that if Sevilla really wanted to rid Customs of corruption, he should not have given up that easily.
Marikina City (Metro Manila) Rep. Romero Quimbo, chairman of the House ways and means panel that seeks to pass measures to raise the government’s tax collection and generate state revenues, was also skeptical of Lina’s appointment.
“I think that the issue of staying or not is a personal decision. It’s difficult to say whether that’s a good decision or not. But the more appropriate question now is whether bringing back a former commissioner of Customs is a wise decision,” Quimbo said.
The United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) sees Lina’s appointment as a way to raise funds for the ruling Liberal Party (LP).
UNA interim president and Navotas City (Metro Manila) Rep. Tobias Tiangco said Lina’s background as one of the campaign contributors of LP back in the 2010 elections is already suspect.
“The administration is circling the wagons by appointing people in key government agencies that can contribute to LP’s campaign kitty. Bert Lina is known as a close associate of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, and both are members of the Hyatt 10. And the Hyatt 10 are known to be allied with the Senate President, who is also the vice chairman of the Liberal Party,” Tiangco added. “It shows that the Palace protects its interests.”