Militarization of the Bureau of Customs: Will it work?
On Sunday, newspaper headlines reported a military takeover of the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
President Duterte spoke of “lawless elements” on the waterfront that forced him to put the BOC under military control, at least temporarily, after shipments of “shabu” (crystal meth) valued at P11 billion slipped through customs inspectors at Manila International Container Terminal (MICT).
Last year, a shabu shipment worth P6.4 billion also got through, leading to the relief of then Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon.
Marine Captain Faeldon was replaced by retired Philippine National Police Chief Supt. Isidro Lapeña, who now has been relieved by a former chief of staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and administrator of the Maritime Industry Authority (Marina), Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero.
Less than a year after his retirement from the military, General Guerrero, who barely warmed his seat at Marina, is now at another position in the government.
Three soldiers — a Marine officer, a PNP chief superintendent and now an Army general — have been given the task of running an agency that performs three vital functions in our economy: revenue collection, trade facilitation and antismuggling operations.
First of all, it appears unclear if there is really a military takeover at the bureau.
Sunday’s reports indicated that some kind of memorandum was forthcoming spelling out the details of the military takeover.
The Philippine Coast Guard, Navy and Army would be sending technical groups to the BOC to prepare them for some form of familiarization or supervisory function over customs operations.
Another report quoted the President as saying, “three signatures of military officials would be required for a container to clear customs control.”
But on Wednesday, a Palace announcement said there was no “military takeover,” only “intimidation” (whatever that means) at the BOC.
It would be left to General Guerrero to decide the military role at the bureau.
No clear plan of action
All these confusing and contradictory statements lead us to believe that there was no clear plan of action prior to Lapeña’s ouster.
Even the officials involved were caught by surprise by the President’s announcements.
It appears to be a knee-jerk reaction to the lurid tales of P11 billion worth of shabu now available in the streets.
So far, the Duterte administration has relied on military personnel to run the BOC.
For many reasons, it has not been a satisfactory arrangement and General Guerrero’s designation is simply more of the same.
Career customs officer
It is difficult and perhaps unfair to make comparisons with past customs administrations since the existing conditions are not always the same.
Let me offer one suggestion.
Why not appoint a career customs officer, preferably one who has the trust and confidence of the President to head the agency?
It will take time for an outsider, whether military or civilian, to learn the ropes and to bring in his own assistants.
After a while they may be swallowed up by the system or after he is gone, any reform put in place on his watch will go down the drain.
There are experienced, knowledgeable and dedicated workers in the BOC.
Unfortunately, we have this mindset that everyone in the organization is corrupt.
The truth is we have contributed to their corruption.
We want to pay the least or possibly no tax on our shipments.
We want our goods released immediately and so we grease our way through the system and when we don’t get our way, we cry “corruption.”
We must make a serious effort to determine the most qualified among the career people.
They may not be perfect or meet all our requirements but they know the system and can place people in the right positions where they can be most effective and hopefully get the job done.
One problem that is obvious is that career personnel are thoroughly demoralized by the scandals plaguing the BOC and prefer to play it safe.
The many high-profile cases that come out in the open suggest that only the small fry get fried.
Why should anyone risk his career to help the government when just keeping quiet can be more rewarding?
It is a situation that should be reversed.
The career people know where all the bones are buried.
By the way, today is All Saints’ Day. They are all in heaven.
On this earth, you have to deal with all kinds of people.
If we keep this in mind, perhaps we won’t be too disappointed and frustrated.
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