With the Bureau of Customs a complete mess, and with President Aquino out of his wits in dealing with the agency, a lobby has emerged to have House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte’s younger brother Ricardo ”Boysie” R. Belmonte to head the agency.
“He’s decided to make a bid for it as he’s retiring February next year, “ a source said. He may even be more efficient since he’s a career man at Customs who knows the ins and outs of the agency, unlike Aquino’s past two appointees whom the crooks have run circles around.
However, one former customs official isn’t convinced of that report: “What for, he’s already very powerful here, he’s very, very happy as MICT collector.” MICT is the Manila International Container Terminal.
Still though, other sources said, one reason why Aquino can’t fire customs chief Rozano Rufino Biazon is that if he did and didn’t’ appoint Belmonte to the post, he’d risk the ire of the Speaker.
The Speaker’s brother, according to Customs sources, allegedly has been one of the most influential and favored figures in the bureau, having had choice posts even under the previous administration during which he was head of the agency in the Ninoy Aquino International Airport and then at the Port of Cebu.
He was appointed in September 2010 as head collector of the MICT, the agency’s biggest revenue earner. Despite several reshuffles in the bureau in the past three years, Belmonte has remained as MICT collector, making him one of the longest-serving collectors posted at the MICT.
Customs chief Ruffy Biazon according to sources has not been “very happy” with Belmonte not only since he thinks he is not really under him, and reports only to his brother the speaker (who allegedly in turn reports the situation in Customs to Aquino). Biazon could not even lower the boom on Belmonte despite the fact that the MICT had not been meeting its collection targets for 2010 and 2011.
Belmonte on the other hand suspects that Biazon has been investigating him for the infamous 5,000 container vans that vanished in thin air in transit to the Port of Batangas as about 2,000 of these came from the MICT.
Unfortunately, TV cameras weren’t on Speaker Belmonte when Aquino fulminated against the Customs Bureau where the Speaker’s brother is a key official.
Customs deputy commissioner for intelligence Danilo Lim, a general who once headed the Marines, the other day harangued “powerful forces” for blocking his efforts to fight smuggling and revealed that he has been “up against political heavyweights.”
To say that the House under Speaker Belmonte, one of the political heavyweights under this regime, has been supportive of Aquino is an understatement. Without Belmonte, Mr. Aquino would be nothing.
His most important achievements – taking out former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez and Chief Justice Renato Corona, and getting Congress to allocate tens of billions of pesos for his vote-buying scheme called the conditional cash transfer program – could not have done without Belmonte. Without the Speaker’s support, he would be a complete lame duck in the second half of his term.
Right after Aquino’s state of the nation address the other day, Belmonte was reported in the Philippine Star, which his family controls, as saying that he “vowed passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law,” which the President promised the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
There has been massive demoralization in the Customs bureau’s staff not just because the President cursed them before the nation in the most important speech he gives every year, as a bunch of criminals with “makakapal ang mukha” (without shame), that they were even allowing the smuggling of illegal drugs.
The President’s tirade was viewed in the bureau as so hypocritical since it is widely known that Mr. Aquino has used the Customs bureau to reward those who did his bidding, appointing them to key posts even if they had no experience in the very technical work of the agency:
• Ex-general Lim was appointed in the crucial post of intelligence chief to reward him for being in the forefront of the propaganda and legal cases filed against former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Lim even was the complainant – together with Rissa Hontiveros, awarded as one of the Aquino’s (losing) senatorial candidate in the last election – in the electoral sabotage case against Arroyo that has put her in jail.
• Juan Lorenzo Tanada was appointed as deputy commissioner for administration to reward his cousin former Liberal Party congressman Erin Tanada’s role as spokesman in the impeachment of the Corona.
Not only that, instead of appointing career officials, Aquino has appointed to the bureau his factotums.
• In February 2012, Aquino appointed Ericson A. Alcovendaz as assistant secretary in charge of the Post Entry Audit Group, a crucial unit in the anti-smuggling campaign as it could have detected misdeclarations. Alcovendaz had been since 2011 assistant executive secretary in Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa’s office in charge of finance. There are other sources though who claim that Alcovendaz actually is more of Ochoa’s representative in Customs, which has triggered rumors that the executive secretary is one of the “powerful forces” ex-general Lim was pointing to who were meddling in the agency, and stymieing his reform efforts. Lim though has publicly said he is asking to work in another agency, which obviously could make him less-than-free to point fingers.
• Also in February 2012 he appointed Prudencio M. Reyes as acting deputy commissioner in charge of the Assessment Operations Coordinating Group, another crucial unit in the agency that determines the duty to be imposed on imports. Reyes’ closeness to Aquino is demonstrated by the fact that Aquino defied Civil Service rules since he appointed Reyes who was convicted by the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court for grave abuse of authority against officials of the Local Waterworks and Utility Administration which he headed during President Estrada’s administration.
A customs staff angrily said: “Why is Aquino bad-mouthing the Customs bureau when he has stuffed the agency with his people? It’s his handpicked people who’ve been running the bureau, and now he’s shamed us?”
www.rigobertotiglao.com and www.trigger.ph