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Still no PNP chief, no Comelec chair

TWO OF the most critical and sensitive institutions of government in the conduct of elections are the Philippine National Police and the Commission on Elections. The coming 2016 presidential election is shaping up as one of the most important electoral contests in years. The results of this election shall determine whether we move forward or we fall back to the dark ages as the “sick man of Asia.”

Unfortunately, as we approach this election, the two agencies remain without stable leadership and in the minds of many of our people, ill-prepared to perform the tasks required of them.

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For almost half a year now, the PNP has been without a chief, either permanent or one serving in an acting capacity. Deputy Director General Leonardo Espina, who was appointed as PNP officer in charge in 2014, continues to serve as OIC and is due to retire in July. If he were good enough to be retained in this post for such a length of time, perhaps it is only fair that he should be allowed to serve even in an acting capacity, if only to maintain morale in an organization that for some time now has been headless, without a sense of direction and with little esprit de corps. How can the men look up to their chief knowing that the commander in chief himself does not appear to appreciate his leadership qualities enough to designate him in a more permanent capacity than officer in charge?

Another vacancy that cries out for filling up is the chair of the Comelec. With the filing of certificates of candidacy only a few months away, it is important that the commission is properly and fully constituted so as not to overload the members with work that is expected in the coming months. The more time we allow the commission members to orient themselves in their new jobs, the better prepared they will be, come elections.

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All sorts of reasons are being bandied about for the delays in making the necessary appointments. But instead of instilling a sense of confidence, the delays only give rise to suspicions of some dark agenda.

Let us not wait until the last two minutes to put things in place. This is not a basketball game. This contest involves the life and the continuing progress of our nation. The earlier we act, the more satisfying and rewarding will be the results.

* * *

Unlike in the two positions mentioned earlier, President Aquino took immediate action on the vacancy that was created at the Bureau of Customs with the departure of Commissioner John Philip Sevilla. There was no need to designate an officer in charge for transition purposes.

In accepting the resignation of Sevilla as Customs commissioner, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima issued the following statement:

“The numbers do not lie: As head of the Customs reform team, he (Sevilla) has helped grow the Bureau’s collection by 21% year on year, in 2014 versus 5% in the pre-reform period, transformed Customs to be one of the most radically open and transparent agencies in government, has made government regulations more efficient for doing business in the country, and has taken great strides to thwart graft, technical and outright smuggling by filing cases, alert orders and seizures against erring importers, brokers and officials. The Bureau of Customs is the most improved national government agency in terms of revenue collection last year, thanks in no small part to the person who led it.”

With such effusive and profuse praise for the man, one wonders why the government had to let go of such a hard-working and effective administrator at a time when we should be encouraging our young people to serve their country in positions of responsibility in government.

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Purisima added in his statement: “I think unleashing transformative reform in the Bureau of Customs will remain to be one of the pinnacles of his legacy in government.”

Of course, it is important to keep in mind that reforms require time and a stable environment in which to prosper and grow.

* * *

A “balikbayan” returns to head the bureau.

Ten years after serving briefly as Customs chief in 2005, Alberto Lina is once again back in the saddle at the waterfront.

One of the most successful entrepreneurs of the country, Lina built his Lina Group of Companies (LGC) from scratch, turning it into an 18-company conglomerate of diversified interests that is a leader in today’s cargo-handling and logistics industry.

While in the tedious process of divestment as required by law and with barely over a year left in the present administration, Lina may have very little time remaining for him to carry out his programs for an agency that continues to remain engulfed in controversy and dispute. But as Lina himself explains, it is time to serve his country, which is as good a reason as any to accept one of the most difficult positions to handle in government. Unfortunately as he steps into the job, he is immediately embroiled in legal entanglements with staff members.

As I have mentioned in the past, Customs has basically two main functions: First is 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 cannot meet your targets on a fairly regular basis, you ought to be able to keep smuggling 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.

The environment in the bureau continues to be “personality-oriented and patronage-driven.” The situation will not change overnight and the leader must be able to operate and deliver under these conditions and challenging restraints.

We wish Lina good health and clarity of mind in a job that will certainly tax his wellbeing, shake his equilibrium, and test his leadership skills.

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TAGS: Comelec, Leonardo Espina, nation, news, Philippine National Police
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