AFTER having been assured of the continued trust of President Benigno Aquino 3rd, Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon on Tuesday vowed to implement reforms as he announced that a “major shakeup” in the bureau is being finalized by Malacañang and the Finance department.
Biazon, who offered to quit after Aquino lashed at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Monday, disclosed that he and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima are in the final stages of the plan.
“It is in the offing and it will also surprise everyone as much as those statements given by President Aquino,” Biazon said.
One of the new policies to be implemented is a ban on political endorsements to insulate it from politics. Biazon said this refers to recommendations for specific positions coming from some high-ranking officials in government.
However, Biazon admitted that this policy alone would not resolve the decades-old and deeply-rooted problem of corruption in the agency because Customs personnel who are actually engaged in illegal activities or those in cahoots with smuggling syndicates remain untouched for years.
Nevertheless, he said that with the Chief Executive’s renewed trust, he would take it as a challenge to undertake major changes in the Bureau no matter who will be affected because of his resolute desire to transform the BoC into a graft-free agency.
“I’m still in,” Biazon said, ending speculations that he will be replaced.
“I am ready. ‘Dial-a-friend’ or ‘Call-a-friend’ is not going to work this time around especially with no less than the President who is giving me full support,” the Customs chief declared.
“I have a plan for the bureau, but my stay here is on a day to day basis. I will not shed a tear for this seat, but I will fight for what I believe in,” he added.
He said the prompt response by the President to his offer to resign made him more determined to carry out drastic reforms to eliminate corruption in the agency and altogether crush smuggling.
Biazon said that he has no reason to get hurt over critiques on the bureau, but he did not want to be identified with those “makakapal ang mukha [thick-skinned]” individuals being criticized by the President.
“Binabanatan ang Customs pero nagtratrabaho naman tayo. Hindi po ako kagaya ng iba kaya nung oras na ‘yon, I offered my resignation [The Customs is being criticized although I’ve been working. I am not like the others so right there and then, I offered my resignation],” he pointed out.
When asked if he thinks it was the BOC-Intelligence Group headed by Deputy Commissioner Danilo Lim that the President was trying to hit, Biazon said that he wants to keep his suspicions to himself.
“Is it a fair thing to say these things? We need evidence to support these claims,” he pointed out.
Reacting to the President’s remarks that there has not been any major apprehension of firearms or drug smugglers, Biazon said that he is “personally on the lookout for drug smuggling” since he has no tolerance for drug-related crimes.
Biazon said his goals in the Bureau include “putting the right people in the right place, completion of the automation system, and change in mindset in customs employees.”
He said these changes are necessary to improve the agency’s revenues and services.
In his 20 months of service, Biazon has assessed the performance of all departments in government. He believes that there are “still traces of hope” when it comes to reform, and there are also “second chances” for everyone who wants to bring change.
Biazon, in his own blog post that aims to clarify his “resignation,” also admitted that although reforming the BOC was difficult, he took on the challenge motivated by the President’s will and vision to reform the entire government.
“Although the risk that I will just leave the institution frustrated and damaged is great, the prospect of achieving something significant in reforming government gave me the drive to forge ahead,” he said.
“Although as of now I remain in the post, all of these I have to absorb and process. Do I give up the fight in the name of delicadeza? Or do I stay on armed with the confidence of the president that I can do the task assigned to me?” he added.
In Malacañang, Deputy Presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said the President is “very cognizant of the challenges, as well as the limitations, that have faced the Commissioner since the time he was appointed.”
“If we take a step back and we look, is it something that the leader can do alone? Or is it something that he cannot do alone?” Valte said.
“The problem in Customs is not simple—the corruption is entrenched,” she stressed.
The Palace official said that Biazon will stay in the Bureau as long as President Aquino’s confidence in his remains.
Valte said the Customs chief is already implementing measures within the BOC.
”Certainly, there are measures that are going to be undertaken, however, I am not at liberty to discuss those measures now,” she said.
Meanwhile, the group Kaya Natin! Movement for Good Governance and Ethical Leadership expressed support to Biazon, one of its Kaya Natin! Champions of Good Governance.
”In his two years at the helm of the BoC, we have seen Comm. Biazon’s commitment in purging graft and corruption and smuggling in the bureau thus, we reiterate that we continue to believe in his integrity and effectiveness as a government leader,” the group said in a statement.
“The Bureau of Customs, perceived by many as one of the most corrupt government institutions, has suffered through decades-long mismanagement and deep-seated graft and corruption that has been perpetuated by people that have long been entrenched in the BoC’s bureaucracy. Thus, we cannot expect that even the best and brightest leaders will be able to overcome these challenges in just 2 years,” it added.
The group also thanked the President for reiterating his trust and confidence in Biazon.