A cry for help directed at P-Noy | Inquirer Opinion
Monday, August 20, 2018
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A cry for help directed at P-Noy

John Philip Sevilla sends in his resignation letter as commissioner of the Bureau of Customs on Wednesday. On Friday, his replacement, Bert Lina, takes the oath of office. A one-day hiatus.

Compare this “action agad” with Malacañang’s lackadaisical reaction to the retirement from office early in February of the heads of the Civil Service Commission and the Commission on Elections and two other election commissioners. The vacancies still have to be filled nearly three months after the fact. What is the problem, no qualified people available, or no people qualified by the Liberal Party? Filling the position of the Commission on Audit chair took nearly three months.

Sevilla’s letter of resignation, to my mind, was a cry for help directed at P-Noy, a cry for support against the pressures he was undergoing. That letter was the only way he could get the President’s attention, because he was not a kaibigan, a kamaganak, a kabarilan, a kaklase. What he was—what he is—is a professional with impeccable credentials. That, unfortunately, is not enough. Just ask Enrique Ona of the Department of Health, or Al Vitangcol of the Department of Transportation and Communications, who were removed from the jobs they were performing well on the basis of charges that turned out to be baseless.

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Or Jesse Robredo, or Heidi Mendoza, who had to wait so long for the confirmation of their appointments.

The latest victim of this kind of system, I heard, was Grace Pulido-Tan. Remember her? One of the best chairs the COA ever had, and P-Noy lucked out with her. She would have done very well in the Supreme Court, but she, too, was not a “KKKK.” I am told by an unimpeachable source that up to the night before the Supreme Court appointment was announced, the position was hers. But between night and morning, the President changed his mind (bulong-bulong while winding down from the day’s efforts?), and someone else was appointed.

Look at what these people did for the country, and contrast their performance with that of Alan Purisima (Mamasapano) or Rico Puno (Luneta hostage crisis, corruption in the Department of Interior and Local Government) or Virginia Torres (his support for her caused Jose de Jesus’ resignation as transportation secretary—another good man who bit the dust). Or Sixto Brillantes, who appears to have left a mess at the Comelec, and who was a personal choice of the President. They were “KKKK,” and have given him grief rather than glory.

I must add to this list another name: Paquito Ochoa, who seems to be able to influence the President at will and with great personal success—but, I will wager, to P-Noy’s eventual grief.

This does not reflect very well on the President, I am truly sorry to say, but that’s the truth as I see it.

That’s what Sevilla didn’t have: a direct line to the President. I don’t know what role Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima played in this situation, but the encomiums he heaped on Sevilla (in the Inquirer yesterday) got me to thinking: If Sevilla was all that good, why did Malacañang accept his resignation with such alacrity? If “daang matuwid” is the password, shouldn’t Malacañang have rejected his resignation outright and said, “You’re doing a good job, and I will support you 100 percent”? Remember, Sevilla’s resignation was not “irrevocable,” which supports my conjecture that he wanted a show of support from the Palace.

I judge Sevilla only from what I have read in the papers. But only consider:

  • Item One: During his entire 16-month term, did you read of any charges brought against him for corruption or favoritism? Did anyone complain about him? No. That says a lot about the man. And in the process he improved revenues by 21 percent, versus 5 percent previously (according to Cesar Purisima). The stories I read about him had to do with his going after smugglers.
  • Item Two: He tried to professionalize his agency by insisting on conducting (for the first time ever), in partnership with the Civil Service Commission, an examination for supervisory and nonsupervisory positions in the BOC. This was part of his announced policy that new customs personnel will be hired “not on the basis of endorsements, but on their merits and assessment for being fit for the job.” Think how many toes he crushed. The story was interesting, but it came out on Dec. 26, 2014, so no one was paying much attention.

What is puzzling is as recently as January, when there was a rumor that Sevilla was on the way out, Malacañang took pains to debunk the story. So maybe something happened since January to change Malacañang’s mind.

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But from what I gather in the news, the prospective appointment of one Teddy Sandy S. Raval to head the BOC’s enforcement and security services (presumably at the behest of the Iglesia ni Cristo) was one of the straws that broke Sevilla’s back. Sevilla had opposed Raval’s appointment, on the ground that it ran contrary to the guidelines on promotions that he released only last June. If Raval gets that appointment (he is now head of intellectual property rights), and if he is a member of the INC, it will be proof that the promotions and appointments in the BOC still follow the padrino system. Where’s the daang matuwid?

Bert Lina, Sevilla’s successor, is a very able businessman. I respect him highly. But I’m not sure he is the best man for the job, mainly because many of his businesses are closely connected to and depend on the BOC. Too close. He is obviously Cesar Purisima’s recommendee (both were with the “Hyatt 10”).

I hope that Bert will not allow himself to be used as a fundraiser for the Liberal Party.

Sevilla apparently wouldn’t do it. Neither should Bert.

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TAGS: Alberto Lina, BoC, Customs, John Philip Sevilla
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