In the early stages of the US Civil War, Gen. George McClellan was appointed general in chief of all Union armies. But after a while, President Abraham Lincoln and other leaders became impatient with his slowness and timidity in the conduct of operations against the Confederate forces.
In exasperation, Lincoln met with his top generals sans McClellan and declared: “If General McClellan does not want to use the army, I would like to borrow it for a while.” After the Battle of Antietam, the single bloodiest day in American military history (over 22,000 dead and wounded), McClellan was relieved of command of Union armies.
President Lincoln would later appoint Gen. Ulysses S. Grant as Union commander. Grant’s reputation was that of a hard-driving, hard-drinking, brutal warrior-general. Taking a more aggressive stance, he would turn the war around, ensuring Lincoln’s reelection. In the end, he led Union armies to victory with the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee and the Army of Virginia at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Incidentally, on the same day 77 years later, the largest US-led military force surrendered to Japanese forces in Bataan.
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At his recent State of the Nation Address (Sona), President Aquino publicly praised a number of government officials who in his estimation delivered outstanding performances in their areas of responsibility. Among those cited were: Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario; Education Secretary Armin Luistro; Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin; and the Presidential Security Group commander, Brig. Gen. Ramon Dizon. (I might have missed others when I stood up to answer nature’s call during the long speech.) He singled out officials of the Bureau of Immigration and the National Irrigation Administration, for their incompetence, saving his harshest remarks for the Bureau of Customs. “Where do these people get the gall?”
President Aquino then declared, “My patience has run out. If you cannot do your job, you do not deserve to remain in office.” Retired Gen. Ricardo David Jr. of Immigration and Antonio Nangel of Irrigation had been given their walking papers before the Sona. But the President retained Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon saying, “My confidence in you remains the same.”
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From what I recall about the Bureau of Customs (BOC), this agency has basically two main functions: first, to collect revenues for the government (in fact, it is the second-largest revenue collecting office after the Bureau of Internal
Revenue); second, to combat all forms of smuggling operations involving goods, arms and illegal drugs. All other activities are subordinate to or in support of these two primary duties.
If you can’t meet your targets on a fairly regular basis, you ought to be able to keep smuggling activities at tolerable levels. If you fail to curb smuggling, then you ought to be able to meet revenue goals more consistently. If you fail on both counts, your days are numbered.
In his 20 months at the BOC, Commissioner Biazon has not been able to reach targeted revenues that he had a hand in determining. In the formulation of those targets or goals, inputs from the commissioner are part of the process.
As far as the smuggling situation is concerned, the views and opinions and complaints of various business organizations as well as those of the foreign chambers of commerce in the country have been almost uniform: Not enough is being done to curb or minimize the problem.
So on both counts, revenue collection and antismuggling operations, Ruffy Biazon has not delivered and therefore by the standard set by the President, he should not remain in office. It is difficult to understand why David and Nangel have to go, but not Biazon. How can the President’s confidence in Biazon remain the same when he has not been able to do his job?
I can understand the President’s reluctance to let go of Ruffy Biazon. Biazon is a good and decent person, a man whose integrity has never been questioned, the son of a distinguished colleague who brought honor to the Armed Forces of the Philippines. But when I see Ruffy on TV or read about him in the papers, I see a seminarian who finds himself in a casino, and doesn’t know whether to stay, or hit on 16 at the Blackjack table. Perhaps, the President should consider him for another position better suited to his temperament and personality.
As a result of the Sona remarks of the President, there have been resignations tendered by several BOC officials but all have been courtesy resignations, good for media mileage. If these folks are truly serious, they should submit irrevocable letters of resignation, clear their desks at the bureau, and turn in the keys to government vehicles placed at their disposal. That is the moment of truth. But it is not going to happen.
So what do we do with the Bureau of Customs?
Major reform measures to be instituted have been mentioned. Collectors have been put on notice that they may be transferred any time soon. In fact, it was reported yesterday that 12 collectors had already submitted letters to Biazon, taking leave of their posts.
Don’t hold your breath. Reshuffles of this nature have been done in the past. They are sometimes referred to as “rigodon de honor.” Today the BOC has seven deputy commissioners—the government agency with the most deputies.
Let me give my two centavos worth.
What is needed is a change of leadership, one that can inspire people and mobilize the resources of the agency in the attainment of its goals and objectives. You can’t expect support from everyone. But a few good men in key positions where they can make a difference should change the complexion of bureau operations, leading to more positive results.
President Aquino must replace his “George McClellan” and get someone who can operate and deliver in an environment that is, if I may use the words of Prof. Randy David, “personality-oriented and patronage-driven.” That environment is not going to change overnight. It will remain part of the range of challenges that any leader must face and overcome.
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In the latest chapter of the continuing class struggle between PMA classes 1956 and 1957, the latter tied the ongoing Camp Aguinaldo series at one-all, with a nine-point victory. Leading scorers were Romeo David ’56 and Renato de Villa ’57. The tiebreaker is scheduled for next month, also at Aguinaldo.