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UNA: Sevilla resignation mocks ‘daang matuwid’

THE opposition said Friday the resignation of Customs chief John Sevilla demolished the myth of the Aquino administration’s much ballyhooed “Daang Matuwid” or straight path policy.

New Customs chief. Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, left, administers the oath of
office to new Bureau of Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina  as resigned BoC head
John Philip Sevilla looks on at the Customs building in Port Area, Manila. DANNY PATA
Sevilla, who blamed political pressures for his decision to quit, was proof of the corrupting influence of key officials in the ruling Liberal Party, said the interim president of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), Navotas Rep. Tobias Tiangco.

“This is not straight path. Instead there are signs that Sevilla could not stomach the twisted path of the administration,” Tiangco said in a statement.

He described the LP as “a corruption machine working in the background and putting pressure on government appointees in sensitive positions, to milk the government coffers in the last two minutes of the Aquino administration and to contribute to its fundraising campaign.”

Tiangco said Sevilla is known to be an anti-corruption advocate and would rather resign than be tainted by impropriety.

He said true anti-corruption advocates could not last long in the Aquino administration, which only pretends to be against graft.

In resigning, Sevilla cited his helplessness against influence peddlers and admitted there were political pressures at work.

Sevilla did not say who was pressuring him, but said he would not let his agency be a milking cow for the 2016 elections.

“The pressure from the LP for Sevilla to contribute [to the party’s election kitty] was too much for Commissioner Sevilla to stomach so he resigned,” Tiangco said.

“He did not want to be used for politics and he did not want his name sullied.”

Sevilla replaced former congressman Ruffy Biazon as Customs chief in December 2013, after Biazon was implicated in the pork barrel scandal.

Alberto Lina, who was Customs chief under the previous administration, has been appointed to replace Sevilla.

With the 2016 national campaign just a few months away, Tiangco noted that the Aquino administration is circling the wagons by appointing people in key government positions like Lina to government agencies that can contribute to the LP’s campaign kitty.

“Bert Lina is known as a close associate of Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, and both are members of the Hyatt 10. And the Hyatt 10 are known to be allied with the Senate President, who is also the vice chairman of the Liberal Party,” Tiangco said.

The Hyatt 10 is a group of government officials who resigned in 2005 during the height of the “Hello Garci” scandal that plagued the Arroyo administration.

Lina is known to have contributed a large amount of money to the campaign kitty of then senator and presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III and his defeated running-mate, Roxas.

Lina is the chairman of the Lina Group of Companies, which includes Air21, a logistics firm.

The Palace said Friday Lina will divest himself of his interest in the companies he owns and also denied the opposition accusation that Sevilla’s resignation was related to LP fundraising for the 2016 elections.

“The persistent question I have been getting is the apparent conflict of interest of the new BOC commissioner.... Commissioner Lina is in the process of divesting his interest in his brokerage company to erase any kind of conflict of interest by virtue of his appointment as commissioner of the BOC,” said deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said.

She did not mention Lina’s other companies: Shopinas.com, Integrated Waste Management Inc., Cargohaus Inc., DOS 1, Warm (Waste and Resource Management), U-Freight Philippines,

Linaheim Properties, Solarlina, LGC Logistics, Credit Solutions & Business Alliances Inc., Lina Farms, GO 21, E-Konek, Ube Media, 2100 Customs Brokers Inc, U-Ocen Inc, and Linaheim Corporate Travel and Tours.

During the 1990s, Lina owned only about 10 of these companies, before expanding his business.

Most of the companies are in logistics or freight forwarding, warehousing, customs brokerage, and similar businesses.

Lina on Friday vowed to continue the reforms and programs initiated by Sevilla, adding that it will be a gargantuan task to clean up the graft-ridden bureau.

Lina also said he will divest himself of his interest in his brokerage company to erase doubts of any conflict of interest.

During the turnover ceremony held at the BOC, Lina also vowed to improve revenue collections of the agency.

“I would like to focus on an even bigger challenge--Asean integration. This is no longer just a concept, it is already a reality. This initiative is expected to increase trade and economic activity with our ASEAN neighbors. It is imperative that we ask ourselves if we are prepared for this impending expansion. We have no other recourse. We must be ready. It is time to engage our ‘“bosses’ in an environment revitalized with the spirit of true and efficient service,” he said.

He said he would make fighting corruption, one of the biggest impediments to economic growth, a priority.

“We must battle this with a combination of factors – increased awareness, appropriate technology, and resolute action on violators. We will continue to be as transparent with our data. We will light up the darkest corners where this malady lingers. We will not abandon the campaign to eliminate it. In fact, we will expand it and pursue the campaign with more determination,” he said.

He also said he will continue to decongest the ports.

Also on Friday, former senator Panfilo Lacson said corruption at the bureau will remain as long as there is a “Friday 3 o’clock habit,” a weekly meeting among Customs employees and importers, where multi-million-peso bribes are given and divided.

Lacson said Lina was the right choice to replace Sevilla due to his integrity and knowledge of the job. – With Macon Ramos-Araneta

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