MALACAÑANG on Friday defended Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. from allegations that he serves as backer or padrino of some ranking officials at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and that he interferes with its operations.
Palace deputy spokesman Abigail Valte admitted that Ochoa had recommended Customs’ Deputy Commissioner Peter Manzano to his post, “but he has nothing to do with any transactions, illegal or otherwise, mentioned in the reports about anomalies in the bureau,”
A report by The Manila Times identified Ochoa and House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. as among those who prevent the transfer of Customs officials to other posts when a reshuffle of Customs personnel is undertaken.
It is noted that these officials resist the transfer presumably because their present posts afforded them the opportunity to make money by conniving with smugglers.
As to why Ochoa’s name cropped up in the report, Valte had a ready explanation.
“It is not uncommon for people to name-drop the name of the Executive Secretary or any Cabinet official,” Valte said.
Valte said Ochoa would like to know the people involved in smuggling activities, adding that” if Deputy Commissioner Danilo Lim knows of them, the Executive Secretary is more than willing to listen.”
Lim had earlier said that he was willing to identify the padrinos, but he has since clammed up. [See related story]
The resigned deputy commissioner also said the interference of high-ranking officials hampers the Aquino administration’s anti-corruption drive in the agency.
For his part, the Speaker denied wielding influence to keep his brother, Ricardo, in his present post as collector of the Manila International container Terminal Collector, which is said to be a very lucrative position.
“My brother Ricardo has been with Customs for 34 years,” Belmonte said in a text message. “He has an impeccable record, and he certainly doesn’t need me to back him. And I have never done so.”
The Times story also said Ricardo may be appointed the next Customs chief, but the Palace belied the report, insisting the position is not vacant since Customs Commissioner Rozzaano Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon still occupies the post.
It will be recalled that the commissioner had offered to resign from his post, but the President prevailed him to remain. Lim and Tanada had also resigned, but so far the appointing authority has yet to decide whether or not to retain them.
On Friday, Biazon announced plans to reassign 17 port collectors as part of the ongoing reform in the agency, something that Valte said was within the powers of the commissioner to do. She added, however, that she did not know what kind of reforms are being contemplated or who among the high-ranking personnel will be affected.
Oriental Mindoro Rep. Reynaldo Umali, a former Customs deputy commissioner, said the temptation to make money in the agency is so great that very few could resist it.
He said the delay in clearance of cargos and other shipment arising from legal questions is an invitation to corruption.
“The businessmen [who own them]are willing to pay to facilitate the release, and the offer are are difficult to turn down,” he said. “If the cargo is worth P100 million, you can just imagine how much the importer is willing to spend just to get that out.”
However, Umali hastened to add, he never heard of the Speaker’s brother being involved in corruption during his time in the agency
President Benigno Aquino 3rd, in his fourth State of the Nation Address, castigated Customs officials, describing them as useless for their failure to meet tax collection targets and stop the shipment of illegal drugs and arms.
Meanwhile, a former Customs official, Jett Ariola, found it strange that computers at the agency are down twice a week. He said it seems even the X-ray machines are selective in their use.
Ariola was special assistant to Customs Commissioner Alexander Padilla, who served during the time of late president Cory Aquino
He explained that while the bureau had boasted of innovations such as one stop shop counter and single window transaction, the bureau failed to achieve its collection target.
The reason is inefficiency, deliberate or otherwise.
He said in other countries, the computation and payment of taxes are all done with computers, lessening human intervention by 12 to 15 percent. Thus, he explained, the transaction can be done in minutes, if not in seconds.
Here, it takes days, even weeks or months to process the documents, and this is done to force the importer shell out grease money to speed up the process.