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House panel recommends emergency powers for Duterte to take over BOC

The House of Representatives ways and means committee has recommended granting President Rodrigo Duterte emergency powers to "take over" the operations of the Bureau of Customs (BOC), which has been under fire due to allegations of corruption.

"This Committee recommends that Congress grant the President emergency powers to immediately take over the operations of the Bureau in order to ensure public safety and security," the committee said in its 82-page report.

The committee added that the granting of emergency powers to Duterte
should be carefully studied, and may include privatization of certain departments or functions" of the BOC.

It considers corruption at the BOC as a national emergency, which it believes led to the smuggling of P6.4 billion worth of shabu from China in May.

"The occurrence of the national emergency may be considered when the Philippine first line of defense has been compromised because of the Bureau’s corruption and incompetence in protecting and securing our border from entry of large scale contraband especially illegal drugs," the committee explained.

The ways and means committee conducted an inquiry into the shabu shipment from China separately from the House dangerous drugs committee.

The committee said recommends the "immediate execution" of granting emergency powers to Duterte.

It also recommended the establishment of two new bureaus that would replace the BOC.

These are the Bureau of Customs Service which would have the primary task of assessing and collecting import duties and taxes and the Bureau of Security Control, which will exercise police authority at all ports, in charge of customs border control, port security and communication and inspection and monitoring of cargoes.

The committee expects a two-year transition to the two new bureaus.

“The replacement of the present Bureau with two new bureaus is no easy task. The complexity of the current system and the difficulty of the entire transition process can give rise to unforeseen difficulties. As such, this Committee recommends a Two (2) year transition process to establish a fully operational system,” it said.

It said Duterte should be in direct control of the BOC while the two new bureaus are being established.

P44-b lost revenues, P7-B grease money

The committee report said the government lost around P44 billion in revenues due to corruption, incompetence, system flaws and willful neglect of duties of officials at the BOC.

The House panel said that for the period covering July 2016 to July 2017, the properly assessed duties and taxes per container entering the country amounts to P195,611.26.

Due to the practice of benchmarking or the "pre-determined and unvaried amounts of duties and taxes assessed per container regardless of content," at the BOC, a total of 284,130 containers entered the country during the same period.

The panel added that due to benchmarking, the average duties and taxes gathered from these shipments only amounted to P41,126.63 per container, as opposed to the amount of the properly assessed duties and taxes.

"In sum, it is estimated that the government lost P43.8 billion in revenues from July 2016 to July 2017, while corrupt Bureau officials were able to amass over P7.7 billion from grease money," the committee report read.

Endemic corruption

The panel noted in its report that the existence of "an endemic and ingrained system of corruption" within the bureau which, they said, has affected the whole country.

"Corruption within the Bureau plays a bigger role than lost revenues. It affects the country's economy as a whole considering that the Bureau plays and indispensable role in the country's importation and exportation," the report read.

The committee said importation and exportation has a direct effect on the country's economic growth as measured by its gross domestic product.

"Without an accurate measure of its current economic standing, the  country’s economic managers are unable to properly plan and implement economic strategies. Moreover, without precise data and information, the Bureau itself is unable to appropriately set revenue targets," they added.

Charges vs. Faeldon, others

The panel also proposed the revocation of invalid customs memoranda, orders and regulations, and the dismissal of officials, consultants and personnel at the bureau from public service due to serious errors, gross inexcusable negligence and dereliction of duty.

These include:

  • Former commissioner Nicanor E. Faeldon
  • Deputy Commissioner Gerardo Gambala
  • Director Neil Anthony Estrella
  • Director Milo Maestrecampo
  • Mary Grace Malabed
  • Larribert Hilario
  • Vincent Philipp Maronilla
  • Lorna Rosario
  • Ranier Ragos
  • Alexandra Yap Ventura
  • Mandy Anderson
  • Althea Acas

The panel also recommended the dismissal of consultants and contractual employees exercising control or supervision over regular and career employees.

Several charges have also been recommended for filing against Faeldon and the BOC officials, including violations of the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act, the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, the Anti-Red Tape Act, and the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

The House dangerous drugs committee has also recommended the filing of charges against Faeldon and other BOC officials and the abolition of the bureau.

The panel has also recommended an investigation into the players, fixers and bagmen involved in the bureau, including Julie Gamboa alias Kimberly and Mark Taguba.

Aside from these, the House panel also proposed the following:

  • Reorganize the BOC's organizational structure
  • Implement the National Single Window Program
  • Upgrade and fully implement the automation of the bureau's information technology system
  • The Bureau of Internal Revenue to assess and collect the necessary taxes
  • The Commission on Audit to conduct an audit on the revenues assessed and collected by the bureau
  • Fully implement the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act
  • Relocate the bureau offices and improve its infrastructures and facilities to ensure transparency
  • Consider the expansion of port load survey coverage to containerized cargoes
  • Review the process of accreditation to eliminate the use of alter-egos or consignees-for-hire
  • Revisit the provision of the Attrition Act of 2005

—ALG, GMA News