Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon is resigning his high-profile office by day’s end tomorrow. It is a good decision; if he had not tendered his “irrevocable resignation” in a meeting with President Aquino on Monday, he would have been forced out of the Bureau of Customs by both internal political pressure and public opinion.
Indeed, if he had not resigned after seeking that well-publicized meeting, or if the President had told him to stay, both of them would have been roundly criticized—for raising and then dashing expectations. That meeting in Malacañang was a threshold, and the public knew it.
The President’s official statement, three paragraphs short, highlighted what he must have thought was the essential matter he discussed with Biazon: “He explained that it would be best to provide the Secretary of Finance the widest leverage and flexibility to steer the future of the Bureau of Customs, in light of the controversy brought about by Commissioner Biazon’s inclusion” in the complaint filed by the National Bureau of Investigation in the Office of the Ombudsman.
That controversy, of course, refers to the roiling P10-billion pork barrel scam, allegedly masterminded by Janet Lim-Napoles. Biazon was included in the second set of charges the NBI filed in the case, for reportedly earning illegal commissions amounting to P1.95 million, by channeling Priority Development Assistance Fund allocations worth P2.7 million to one of Napoles’ bogus nongovernment organizations in 2007, when he was the representative of Muntinlupa.
Biazon is the first close ally of the President implicated in the pork barrel scam. (Another former representative, Zenaida Cruz-Ducut, currently chair of the Energy Regulatory Commission, was also charged. But she was appointed to that office by President Gloria Arroyo in 2008. It is misleading to count her among Mr. Aquino’s political allies.) Whistle-blowers’ testimony suggests there are three other allies of Mr. Aquino similarly implicated, at least for the years 2007 to 2009. The public will be waiting for the NBI’s third batch of filings, and for the next Commission on Audit special report, this time covering PDAF disbursements since 2010, to determine whether the Aquino administration’s exercise of political will truly extends even to its own, or whether Biazon is only the one sacrificial lamb.
The first part of Biazon’s three-page resignation statement makes for intriguing reading. There are seven paragraphs that challenge the idea of resignation, each beginning with “Why will I resign?” For instance, “Why will I resign if some quarters will only interpret it as an admission of guilt?” Or, “Why will I resign if the allegations do not have anything to do with my present duty as Commissioner of Customs?”
No doubt, the decision must have been difficult to make. The reforms he undertook in Customs have not had a real chance to take root; the reorganization he started only a few months ago has not borne fruit. And there is no second-guessing the high priority Biazon placed on protecting his family, especially his children, “from the exposure to the hostile environment of a public controversy involving their father.” But in truth, after the filing of the charges, his position was untenable.
Just last July, after the President reserved choice words for the BOC in his State of the Nation Address, Biazon already faced pressure to resign. He received Mr. Aquino’s support; it was too much, politically, to expect the President to come to Biazon’s defense again, now that criminal charges have been filed against him.
It is not exactly true, as Biazon argued in another “Why will I resign” paragraph, that “at this point, there is only an allegation that has yet to even pass the scrutiny of the Ombudsman to determine if it has basis to undergo preliminary investigation.” Yes, the Office of the Ombudsman has its own procedures to follow, but the complaint the NBI filed against him (and 33 others, including six other former members of the House of Representatives) was not a haphazard thing.
Much work went into the investigation. Almost three months elapsed between the first filing of charges (against Napoles, Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, and Bong Revilla, as well as many others) and the second; that wasn’t an accident. To save his reputation, the former candidate for the Senate must assume that the investigators have the goods on him, and prepare accordingly.
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