ROUGH CUTS| Wasting a P250-million government asset

THE CITY Council of Davao now appears to be ganging up on the present Bureau of Customs (BOC) Collector Erastus Sandino Austria for his refusal to heed the call of Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio to put to use the P250-million x-ray equipment for cargo containers at the Sasa port. The x-ray machine is now lying idle for the past seven years or so, and possibly already dilapidated due to wear and tear.

According to second district councilor Danilo Dayanghirang the local legislative body will invite BOC Collector Austria in one of its forthcoming sessions so he could shed light on why he is ignoring the call of the mayor which she aired during a meeting of the City Peace and Order Council. Dayanghirang says that the lady city executive is apprehensive of the chance that with cargo containers not passing through the Customs x-ray machine, there may be possibility that some people with terrorist intention could slip through the local sea port shipments containing weapons intended for mass destruction.

In other words, the city mayor wants the x-rey equipment used as a means to prevent the possibility of Davao City being target of terrorist attacks in the future. Yes, the mayor is more concerned of the safety and security of the city in her strong desire to have the x-ray facility re-opened. Increase in the Bureau’s revenue may only be secondary.

The sudden closure of the x-ray facility located inside the compound of Aquarius Container Yard in Sasa owned by businessman Rodolfo Reta is now the subject of a court litigation that has reached to the Supreme Court. It has even resulted to the termination of the then Customs collector Anju Nereo Castigador and another Customs employee. Two others were suspended by the Ombudsman.

The closure of the x-ray facility came about after Castigador claimed the agreement of the Bureau and Reta was already rescinded although there were loud whispers then that the real reason was the discovery by the yard operator that some containers x-rayed in the facility were found to have smuggled cargoes inside yet these were allowed to pass through allegedly with the approval of the then Customs official.

Reports say there were attempts to surreptitiously pull out the machine from Reta’s yard but these did not succeed. The attempts were done allegedly because some interested parties have reportedly offered proposals more beneficial than the ones covered in the BOC agreement with Reta. Who these interested parties are and why they seem to have succeeded in putting in their influence in the Bureau we can only have the faintest of idea. But the fact that it has floated out, the possibility of truth is not remote.

If we have to believe that the non-utilization of the very expensive x-ray equipment is its being the subject of a legal battle then it is one of the biggest omissions of the High Court to sleep on the case for so long.

Is too long a period of time required for the highest court of the land to decide whether the BOC-Reta agreement on the operation of the x-ray machine in the latter’s container yard is rescinded or not. Of course the BOC is banking on an opinion by former Solicitor General Francis Jardeliza that the agreement has been voided. But the High Court has been called by Mr. Reta to rule on whether a simple opinion from the SolGen has the force of law like that a Supreme Court resolution on the case?

Frankly we believe that it is high time that the highest court of the land must act with some degree of dispatch to rule on the BOC-Reta case.

By ruling that the Agreement has been effectively rescinded then the Bureau will now be free to transfer the cargo container x-ray equipment to wherever it wants for as long as the new location will not compromise cargo security and safety.

If the High Court so rules that the BOC-Reta agreement is still in effect, then by all means the said agency must immediately put back to use the x-ray equipment. That way the reported proliferation of smuggling activities in the port of Davao specifically rice from Thailand or Vietnam, will probably be reduced if not totally stopped.

Or, is there really a “Davao Group” which is now exerting its influence even in the resolution of the BOC-Reta case because its members know that once the x-ray facility is again operational their smuggling days would be over?

Posted in Opinion