To mark Father’s Day, we had a famous father, Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, and his equally famous son, Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon, as guests at last Monday’s Kapihan sa Manila at the Diamond Hotel.
The elder Biazon is a retired general in the Philippine military and a former senator. I asked him whether he prefers to be called “General,” “Senator” or “Congressman.” He said he had spent 30 years as a soldier but only three months campaigning to become a senator, so it was obvious that he prefers “General.”
Ruffy was also a representative of Muntinlupa until President Aquino appointed him commissioner of the Bureau of Customs (BOC). The general, whose two terms as senator had ended, then sought and won his son’s seat in the House.
Biazon was asked what Ruffy was like as a child. Was he “makulit” or obedient, studious or lackadaisical? Were his grades good or bad, etc.?
The general replied that the young Ruffy was headstrong. He recalled one time when his wife and son, then not yet two years old, were visiting him at Fort Magsaysay in Nueva Ecija, where he was then assigned. He took the boy on his shoulders and went for a walk through the woods of Fort Magsaysay.
It was the toddler who kept telling him where to go, what path to take, the general related. The child insisted on going through the tall cogon, away from the beaten path, out of curiosity perhaps.
In school, was Ruffy studious? What were his grades? He was a good pupil, and he got high grades, the father said.
Why is your son not a soldier like you? Did you not influence him to follow in your footsteps?
The general said he had told his three children (two boys and a girl, Ruffy the youngest) that being a soldier was no bed of roses. But he did not influence them one way or the other, and let them decide for themselves, he said.
He recalled that when his elder son told him about having applied for admission to the Philippine Military Academy, he delivered a lecture on the facts of life in the PMA and the military. “It will entail a lot of sacrifices,” he said he told his son. “You will be away from your family most of the time. As for getting rich in the military, forget it.” The son consequently changed his mind about entering the PMA and pursued another course in college.
That is why it never entered the mind of the younger son, Ruffy, to enter the military, Biazon said. Ruffy wanted to be a doctor, he said, but ended up acquiring a degree in accounting.
“Did your father not advise you on what course to take in college?” Ruffy was asked.
“No, he did not try to influence us in any way. He let us decide for ourselves,” Ruffy replied.
Was his father a strict disciplinarian, like most soldiers are? “He was a loving father,” the son said. “We missed him and he missed us. He was always stationed somewhere.”
Ruffy said that among the siblings’ happiest moments was visiting their father in camp. Biazon recalled that during the confrontation between the Enrile-Ramos rebel forces and the pro-Marcos military in 1986, he was still stationed at Fort Magsaysay. Fearing for the safety of his wife and children, he phoned home to tell them not to go out of the house.
“Imagine my surprise when I got to Camp Crame and found them all already there,” the general said.
“It was because we thought he himself was already there,” Ruffy interjected. “The radio report said he was already in Camp Crame to join the Ramos forces. We were so eager to see him.”
“How did you feel when your father was away from his family?” Ruffy was asked. He replied: “We were always worried. He was a soldier, and we were afraid something might happen to him.”
“Did you ever think about being a soldier like your father?”
“Of course, every son wants to be like his father,” Ruffy said. “But because of the loneliness that we felt all the time, I did not want that to happen to my own family. Besides, after the lecture that my father gave my elder brother, I decided that soldiering was not for me.”
With Ruffy, it was inevitable that questions would be asked about the performance of the BOC. “Why is it that although Philippine imports are increasing, the customs collection is decreasing?”
Said Ruffy: “Because while the volume of imports is increasing, more and more free trade agreements are being observed. Yes, there are more imports, but many of them are duty-free. Therefore customs duties are decreasing in spite of the increased volume of imports.”
Somebody asked about the hao-shiaos, or fake reporters, at the BOC: “Why are there so many reporters covering customs and yet there are very few stories about customs in the media?”
Ruffy said the number of purported journalists covering customs had been trimmed down from more than 300 to about 106. “But the weeding out is continuing.”
Three hundred reporters covering just one bureau—what are they all doing out there? Did not customs officials wonder about this? Even 100 reporters covering the BOC is too much. That’s more than all the reporters covering Malacañang, Congress and the Supreme Court put together. Editors usually require each reporter to produce at least one story a day, so there should be at least 100 stories about the BOC in the media every day. So where are the stories?
Most stories concerning the BOC are about smuggling, and these are written, not by customs reporters, but by reporters covering other beats. So what are all those 100 or so BOC reporters doing there?
That’s not hard to guess. I am surprised that customs officials do not realize that and do something more drastic to curb smuggling right in the BOC’s main offices by removing the fixers masquerading as journalists.