EDITORIAL

Top-to-bottom revamp needed at Customs

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“SHOCKING” falls short in describing the revelations made by Sen. Panfilo Lacson in a privilege speech he delivered on Wednesday on wholesale corruption at the Bureau of Customs. It confirmed years of public suspicion of widespread bribe-taking at the bureau; the reason why it wasn’t exposed sooner was that in Customs, it’s “everybody happy.” Corruption has been happening at all levels, from the office of the commissioner down to the person manning the X-ray machines.

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The “tara” system, Lacson alleged, is evidence of “systemic corruption” in the bureau. He adds: “[W]ith almost every office and official receiving their share of ‘tara,’ the bureau can give the Mafia stiff competition.”

Resigned Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon allegedly received a P100-million “welcome gift,” while an unnamed official cashed P5.1 million worth of checks in May and June alone. Lacson practically read the entire bureau’s plantilla when he enumerated the recipients of grease money.

According to the senator, a total of 390 to 490 containers per day, or 1,950 to 2,450 containers a week, are being facilitated by big players, including the “Davao” and “Teves” groups.

As a result, of the 15,000 to 16,000 containers released every week at the Manila International Container Port and the Port of Manila, about 6,000, or 40 percent, are subjected to the tara system.

It is no wonder that Customs is often unable to hit its collection targets, and often appeals to have its goals revised downward. Last year, its target was cut by a fifth to P409 billion from P499 billion.

For the first half of 2017, Customs collected P210.64 billion, short of the P218.71-billion collection target.

It should be noted that this is happening early in the Duterte administration, with the President himself setting the tone by saying repeatedly that he would not tolerate corruption under his watch.

In fact, to preclude any perception of impropriety, Duterte accepted the resignation of Faeldon, even if the jury was still out on whether the ex-Magdalo rebel was corrupt.

Duterte’s choice to replace Faeldon, Isidro Lapeña, a decorated police general, does not indicate a concession to lawmakers who might have wanted a more malleable commissioner at Customs.

Top-to-bottom corruption requires no less than a top-to-bottom revamp. There is no need to pass a law for this.

Lapeña can start off by seriously implementing RA 9335, or the Lateral Attrition Act, a widely praised reform bill passed way back during the Arroyo administration and upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012.

But what was supposed to be ironclad legislation has been stymied by the lobbying of revenue officials incapable of meeting their collection targets, either because of incompetence or corruption.

If implemented to the letter (meaning, no more downward adjustments to revenue targets in the middle of the year), this will help rid both the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Internal Revenue of misfits.

Under RA 9335, revenue officials who fall short of their targets by at least 7.5 percent could be dismissed. On the flipside, those who exceed their targets will be rewarded.

As head of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, Lapeña ran after drug syndicates. It shouldn’t be too difficult for him to crack down on the fat cats at Customs.

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