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The mystery of the missing container vans

/ 09:34 PM August 30, 2011

Nearly 2,000 container vans disappeared in broad daylight under the nose of Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez while these were being transshipped from Manila to the Port of Batangas between May and June this year. Within 61 days, the vans went missing at the rate of 32 vans a day.

Why this extraordinary movement didn’t catch the eye of Alvarez or arouse his curiosity is the biggest mystery ever to happen on President Aquino’s “matuwid na daan.” This mystery is developing into a big embarrassment to his administration.

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More of a mystery is the way Malacañang is handling the failure of Alvarez to explain satisfactorily the disappearance.

On Monday P-Noy, apparently fed up with Alvarez’s shenanigans, confirmed he had found a replacement to the commissioner, after he said he was “no longer happy” with him.

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Shortly after the President confirmed he had picked a new Customs chief, Alvarez claimed he had uncovered a huge “scam” involving the smuggling last year of more than 3,600 shipping containers purportedly to raise election campaign funds for the Arroyo administration. This claim appears to be an effort to blame the past administration for missing containers—an apparent attempt by Alvarez to shield the Aquino administration from responsibility for the disappearances. Alvarez admitted the government lost hundreds of million of pesos in revenue from the so-called “scam.” Why the President kept the public guessing who would replace Alvarez—even though Malacañang sources had told the Inquirer earlier that former Muntinlupa City Rep. Roxanno Rufino Biazon had accepted the President’s offer to head the Customs bureau—is another mystery. Biazon is a son of former Sen. Rodolfo Biazon, a Liberal Party stalwart and now Muntinlupa’s representative in the House.

At first Alvarez rejected calls for his resignation partly because of his poor revenue performance in Customs. Most of the press treated gingerly the issue of the imminent replacement of Alvarez, and only one newspaper  (BusinessWorld) called a spade a spade, headlining the story: “Aquino sacks Customs chief.” Other media treated the story in a convoluted way, giving space to the government’s roundabout explanations.

In an effort to present himself in a good light, Alvarez said he had filed smuggling charges against 14 people—including three importers and three customs brokers for allegedly conspiring in the disappearance of 1,910 container vans while these were in transit to the Port of Batangas three months  ago.

Alvarez told reporters. “This is just the tip of the iceberg. I have asked our people to conduct a deeper probe and review all the past transactions of the companies involved. He admitted the diversion of the imported items had deprived the government P240 million worth of potential revenues.

Alvarez named the importers as Loida Jalimao, owner of Sea Eagle Trading;  Lolita Clarin of LCN Trading; and Cecille San Diego, manager of  Moncelian Enterprises. Also charged  in the complaint filed by the justice department were customs brokers Arceli Arellano, Merlyne Reyes and Diosdado Bagon who “assisted in the processing and facilitation in the release of the now missing transshipment cargoes.”  Alvarez also recommended the filing of administrative charges against 14 Customs personnel, including deputy port collectors Jose Tabanda and Ramon Hernandez of the Port of Manila.

These actions failed to save Alvarez from the axe. In a visit to the Inquirer editors last month, Alvarez said calls for his removal from office were “unjust and undeserved.” He said these came from certain sectors whose smuggling activities were being curtailed by his campaign to crack down on smuggling. A day after his appointment last July, Sen. Vicente Sotto III asked the President to recall the appointment of  Alvarez for having committed a “mortal sin” when he lied about his scores in the Mango Tee Tournament. The Alabang Golf and Country Club subsequently suspended Alvarez from playing at the club for six months, and also suspended him from participating in a tournament for five years. Despite these, Secretary Purisima backed Alvarez’s retention in the Cabinet. He said that Purisima had called him for a meeting and told him, “Partner, this is serious. There are many people aspiring for your post. My advice is for you to just perform. At the end of the day, performance will be the one that will be considered.” Eventually, he failed to deliver results.

Still the mystery of the disappearance of large container vans has persist to be an inexplicable mystery, giving rise to speculations that the  President is covering up for controversial key officials.

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Alvarez said the missing vans were part of the 2,219 vans that arrived in the Port of Manila for “transshipment” to Batangas. He said he had directed Chief Supt. Jose Yuchongco, to ascertain what happened to the cargoes. According to Yuchongco, the Asian Terminals Inc. has given him a copy of the trucking companies which supposedly fetched the vans from the Port of Manila in May and June. Alvarez said a report from the Batangas port collector showed only 309 vans arrived at the port of destination.  “Apparently, the cargoes were not brought to Batangas and only the documents were presented by the brokers. The signatures of some customs officials were forged,” Alvarez said. The President was not even angry when he axed Alvarez. He allowed him to spin his fairy tale. He has remained phlegmatic. He does not know until now where the vans eventually ended.

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TAGS: angelito alvarez, Bureau of Customs, featured columns, missing container vans, opinion, ports
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