The resignation of Bureau of Customs (BOC) commissioner John “Sunny” Sevilla last week had many thinking Filipinos shaking their heads in disbelief, not only because of the shocking exposé of the ex-BOC chief but more so because of PNoy’s silence about Sevilla’s revelations of politicking and influence peddling emanating from the highest corridors of power.
During the press conference announcing his resignation, Sevilla said he did not want the agency to be used as a “milking cow” for the fund raising activities of political camps for the coming elections. He also said earlier that he wanted to ensure that the bureau conducted its dealings fairly and that he won’t allow it to be used in extortion activities.
Sevilla also cited the growing pressure from certain people – particularly in the appointment of personnel to key positions – as the main reason for his resignation. He said he felt and sensed that the ugly face of politics was creeping back into the system. While he did everything to insulate the BOC from politicking, Sevilla says “it’s becoming very difficult and it might be impossible to hold on to the reforms in the coming months.”
Apparently, the last straw for Sevilla was the impending appointment by Malacañang of BOC Intellectual Property Rights Division acting chief Teddy Sandy Raval as the new head of the Enforcement and Security Service (ESS) or more commonly known as the Customs police. As chief of the ESS, Raval would control 400 or so Customs policemen manning the “lucrative” gates of the ports.
The former BOC chief says he tried to resist Raval’s appointment for as long as he could. “I learned fairly recently that the appointment is going to come through. I said, look there is something that is not right about this and I think it is something that’s important enough to the future of Customs and to me personally to take a stand against,” Sevilla said.
Sevilla named “Secretary (Cesar) Purisima, (Finance) Undersecretary (Carlo) Carag, Deputy Executive Secretary (Teofilo) Pilando (Jr.) and Executive Secretary (Jojo) Ochoa” as the Palace officials behind Raval’s endorsement.
The Ivy-league educated BOC chief also revealed that during his term, he received calls and text messages from politicians and other government officials who asked favors – like hiring people they endorsed, promoting employees and releasing smuggled shipments – all of which he says he rejected. Sevilla refused to divulge the names of those who called him or sent him text messages, only saying that it was “people in government.”
Sevilla’s revelations are alarming to say the least.
For one, it seems to confirm the rumors that powerful groups within the Aquino administration are moving to position certain “operators” in the BOC ahead the 2016 national elections. It appears Sevilla stood in the way of this group’s scheme to turn the tax-collecting agency into a gold mine for campaign funding. They needed someone willing to play ball.
Is this the reason why Alberto “Bert” Lina – a known supporter of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) and a close friend of Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Cesar Purisima since their Hyatt 10 days – was appointed as the new Customs chief?
That top Palace officials are interfering in the promotions and assignment process in an agency reputed as one of the most corrupt, is proof that PNoy’s rhetoric about pursuing professionalism and meritocracy in the bureaucracy is a sham.
But it is Malacañang’s response (or lack of it) that not a few folks find infuriating.
A few hours after Sevilla’s press conference, Malacañang released to the media a copy of the letter signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. accepting Sevilla’s resignation. At the same time, the Palace also released a copy of Lina’s appointment letter as the new BOC commissioner.
Other than praising Sevilla for his anti-corruption initiatives in the agency, all Malacañang could say about Sevilla’s revelation was that “corruption still persists in the BOC because the agency’s problem is ‘institutional’ and many of the agency’s processes are still susceptible to personal influence.”
Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said Sevilla’s revelations about the corruption and bribery in the BOC only showed that the agency needs to undergo “systemic reforms.” “What is needed here is the institutional strengthening of the Bureau of Customs,” Coloma explained.
And in contrast to the PNP and other critical agencies whose top post still remains vacant, Sevilla’s replacement was appointed with suspicious haste. It seems Malacañang wants to sweep this scandal under the rug and move on as quickly as possible.
Sevilla also disclosed that he personally met with President Benigno Aquino 3rd to hand over his resignation. We’re sure Sevilla bared these irregularities to PNoy.
That PNoy accepted Sevilla’s resignation without hesitation while turning a blind eye to the shenanigans of his Palace cadre goes to show that under the Aquino administration, politics (and political fundraising) trumps good governance.
This is what “Tuwid na Daan” really means after all.