NEW Bureau of Customs (BoC) Commissioner Isidro Lapeña on Wednesday vowed to put a stop to the culture of corruption in the graft-ridden bureau to generate more revenues for the government.
“Stop corruption and increase revenue earnings. This was the marching order I received from [President Rodrigo Duterte] when I reported to him and [he]formally informed me that I will be heading the Bureau of Customs,” Lapeña said.
By stopping corruption, he explained, collection would consequently also improved.
He said major changes will be implemented to regain public trust and confidence in the bureau, a hotbed of corruption, even as he assured all Customs officers and men that he would give them a chance to start with a clean slate.
Lapeña announced that he would abolish the controversial Command Center (ComCen) established by former Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, saying “it is not in the law,” and would return the “alert power” to deputy commissioners and other concerned Customs officials.
ComCen is headed by Deputy Commissioner Garardo Gambala.
It was created by virtue of Customs Special Order (CSO) No. 45-2016 and is the sole unit that can issue alert orders, among other powers.
ComCen also acts as the coordinating facility of the Operations Group in the proper collection of duties and taxes, enforcement of tariff and Customs laws and prevention and suppression of all forms of Customs fraud and other economic frauds in all ports of entry.
It supervises and monitor as well the movement of imports, exports, foreign mails and the clearance of vessels and aircraft in all ports of entry.
“I am not here to pass judgment but I’m here to institute changes. I’ll start with a clean slate for everybody. I will work with the organization and I will utilize officers and personnel who are already knowledgeable and experienced in the Customs processes,” Lapeña said.
He gave his assurance that those who remain steadfast in performing their duties and responsibilities with commitment, competence and integrity would be aptly rewarded but warn those who continue with their corrupt practices to stop it now.
“I expect this to deter corrupt practices. We will send out a 24/7 feedback mechanism to report and facilitate actions from concerns or complaints regarding unlawful activities of Customs officials and employees and informants who provide positive information will be given rewards,” Lapeña said.
“I need everyone to be onboard, everyone to be onboard with me. Either you are with me or you are against me. If you are not with me, give way or else I will take you out,” he added.
“Let us start anew so we can move forward, just do your work, prove your worth and I will back you up,” Lapeña said.
According to him, he would implement a “one-strike” policy to boost internal cleansing, which shall be supported by intensified counter-intelligence efforts within and outside the bureau.
He said his top priority is to do away with the culture of “pasalubong [welcome gift]” and tara (grease money) and strictly enforce the “no-gift and no-take policy.”
Lapena urged everyone to arrest or report unscrupulous individuals who will use his name to collect money or ask favors to circumvent laws and regulations and “you will receive a reward accordingly from me.”
“I am also appealing to all stakeholders, especially the importers, to support and cooperate with us by adhering only to legitimate procedures. Part of our job is trade facilitation. Do not give us reasons to hold your shipment and I assure you that under my term as Customs commissioner, we will collect what is legally proper and correct dues. No more tara. Do not be duped into becoming instruments that contribute to breeding corruption in the bureau,” he said.
Lapeña added that a bureau-wide computerization of system and processes to reduce red tape would provide a level playing field to all stakeholders and ensure trade facilitation, contributing to increased revenues.
Faeldon, in his farewell speech, called on all officers and employees of the bureau to support Lapena, whom he described as a better officer than him.
He was forced to submit his resignation to the President amid a controversy and public uproar over a P6.4-billion shabu shipment that slipped past the Customs zone without a hitch.
At the height of a congressional probe, Surigao Rep. Ace Barbers and members of the House Committee on Dangerous Drugs called on Faeldon to step down but he refused, saying that as a soldier he treats his job as a mission, “and a soldier does not quit from his mission.”
Subsequent investigations by the Senate and the House of Representatives, however, prompted Faeldon to submit his resignation, which the President eventually accepted.