ROUGH CUTS| Immaculately clean, are they?

USING his mantle of legislative immunity Sen. Panfilo Lacson exploded some kind of a bombshell in the Senate hearing conducted supposedly to look into the alleged “Top-to-bottom” corruption at the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

Aided with a powerpoint presentation the senator made a detailed identification of who  the Customs officials who get multi-million pesos “tara” or peso bribes and how much each of them receives.

Top in Lacson’s list is outgoing commissioner Nicanor Faeldon who, the senator claims, received a P100 million “welcome gift.”

The clarity of Lacson’s presentation, an indication that it is the work of an IT expert in design, would give every Tom, Dick and Harry a much easier job to analyze data.

Yes, it was one presentation intended to convince everyone that indeed those named as bribe recipients are indeed corrupt and are like leeches sucking a large portion of the lifeblood of government.

We do not disagree with the senator insofar as the prevalence of corruption in the Bureau is concerned. It is already endemic in that government agency. In fact, we know of people obsessed to be employed with the BOC because of their desire to get rich fast. In the Davao district office of the BOC we know one who was employed in the Bureau only a few months after graduation from college some six years ago. The family of that person is resident of a farming community northwest of the city. In less than five years of employment in the Bureau this person now owns a gleaming sports utility vehicle. And this person is not even on the supervisory level. Wow!

Oh, sorry. Our thought is waylaid. Going back to Senator Lacson’s expose, as we went over the names of the alleged bribe recipients, we noted that most of them are from the BOC central office and offices in the ports of Metro Manila, Clark, Subic, Cebu, and Batangas.

There was not a single BOC official as well as BOC port in Mindanao involved. We even use a magnifying glass to make sure that Lacson’s list indeed did not include any BOC port or district office in Mindanao where its top officials are “tara” takers.

The Davao district of the Bureau is nowhere to be found. We also did not see the Cagayan de Oro BOC district, the Zamboanga offices, the General Santos office, as well as other Customs offices in smaller ports in Mindanao. But we were, however, interested on finding the inclusion of the Davao BOC offices because the present controversy brought about by the released shipment containing some P6 billion worth of shabu. The cargo that reportedly slipped through Customs in Manila under questionable circumstances was eventually confiscated by the Bureau inside a private warehouse.

The confiscation by the Bureau also brought to the surface what is clearly believed as “turf jealousy” by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) whose National Capital Region (NCR) Region unit claimed the warehouse raid and confiscation of the illegal drugs was already their responsibility and that the BOC’s job was to inform them instead of raiding the warehouse and confiscating the shabu shipment.

The succeeding imbroglio led to the investigation  by the Senate and early during the initial probe Mark Taguba, the Customs broker who worked out for the immediate release of the illegal shipment from China identified several other middlemen and a so-called Davao Group that allegedly has control of shipment disposal at the different Bureau offices.

This Davao Group, which Taguba claimed to include Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, is allegedly collecting “enrollment fees” by the millions of pesos in addition to a per van of shipment tariff by the thousands. Taguba, however, could only attest to another person claiming to be representative of the Davao Vice Mayor. He admitted he has never talked or seen Vice Mayor Duterte personally; much more personally handing over to him the alleged “enrollment fee and per van tariff money. Thus, Taguba’s implicating the Vice Mayor has remained at the “hearsay” level despite efforts of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV to establish the presidential son’s connection in the multi-billion shipment release.

Meanwhile, we see it as very unusual not to find even a single Mindanao Customs Bureau office executive in the list of “tara” beneficiaries. Do we take this to mean that those assigned in the Bureau’s Mindanao offices, more specifically in the Davao region ports, are immaculately clean; incorruptible? Do they belong to the very few honest human specie in the country?

At the national level a Mindanaoan is already about to assume the position of BOC commissioner with the acceptance by the President of erstwhile Bureau head Nicanor Faeldon’s resignation. He is retired Police General Isidro Lapena.

Maybe it is time to appoint those Customs executives assigned in Mindanao who are not listed as “tara” takers as Lapena’s deputies or replacements of those who will be ousted once proved guilty of Lacson’s allegations.

But are they really that clean? Somehow, this absence of a single Mindanao Customs official in the Lacson list reduces to a large degree the credibility of the senator’s expose’. And apparently, it suits the agenda of the Davao Group, assuming that it really exists.

Posted in Opinion