Several Customs officials threaten to resign if the Palace will insist on promoting the agency’s anti-piracy chief as head of the Enforcement and Security Group, one of the bureau’s law enforcement and operations units against smuggling.
The group of officials, led by Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence Group Jessie Dellosa, said they will resign if lawyer Teddy Raval, head of the bureau’s Intellectual Property Rights Division, is appointed as ESS director as purportedly planned.
Resigned Customs commissioner John Philip Sevilla cited Raval’s appointment as one of the reasons why he stepped down. “There is no other reason given for the appointment of Attorney Raval. The push is strong for him to be promoted to a high position at Customs,” he said.
“When things like that happen, something like that is pushed, I begin to doubt their motivations,” Sevilla added.
Sources at the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) told the Standard that the appointment of Raval to ESS was approved by Malacanang officials in November last year, supposedly because of lobbying from an influential religious group.
“But Depcom Dellosa and other officials are opposing this move, saying Raval belongs to the old group and that will ditch all reforms initiated by the new group. Later, Commissioner Sevilla joined the cause and also expressed his intention to resign,” the source said.
Raval’s present post is under the CIIS leadership, which is also being supervised by Dellosa’s office.
Another source said Raval was a law fraternity brother of two of the six deputy commissioners in the bureau.
“Ravals’ appointment papers were already signed by Malacanang as early as November but it could not be implemented because of the objections of Commissioner Sevilla and Depcom [Dellosa]. Even then, they already threatened to resign if they force the appointment,” he said.
In resigning, Sevilla also said he didn’t want the agency he headed to be used as a “milking cow” for politicians in the coming May 2016 elections.
Sevilla had claimed they had done a lot to reform the graft-ridden agency. “Whether it is an election year or not, politician or not, corruption is wrong. Period. We should fight it.”
Sevilla said he resigned because he is not a political person and he is sad he could not finish what they have started.
In a television interview on Saturday, former commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon admitted that politicians recommending personnel for promotion or to work in Customs is a “normal thing” in the bureau.
“I sympathize with him because I really know the post of Customs commissioner. It is really a tough job... a hostile environment,” said Biazon in an interview with CNN Philippines.
“Lobbying for appointments to position has been practiced for some time. During my incumbency, I received a lot of letters, recommendations from political personalities [for] applicants to be accepted in the bureau but I can honestly say that I never accommodated recommendations just like that,” he said.
The former Muntinlupa City representative also wrote an article, saying “destabilization of a sitting commissioner, especially one who is pursuing reform, is a given especially because there are many sectors who want to preserve the status quo or the “way things are run.”
“Some will move heaven and hell [sic] or spend a fortune just to remove a sitting commissioner for various reasons. Some for business interests, some for political reasons or some simply want the job for themselves,” he said in his blog “The Way It Is.”
Some commissioners tried to get rid of the illegal practice but failed.
Last year, the bureau recruited a new batch of district collectors to replace those who were transferred to the Customs Policy Research Office (CPRO), dubbed as a “freezer” at the Department of Finance.
The move, according to Sevilla, was part of the agency’s reform program.
In October 2013, the bureau issued a series of Customs Personnel Order (CPO) and memoranda initiated by the Office of the President and the Finance department.
At first, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima recommended the designation of six new Customs deputy commissioners, which was approved by President Benigno Aquino III.
The six deputy commissioners are Jessie Dellosa for Intelligence Group, Ariel Nepomuceno for Enforcement group; Agaton Uvero for the Assessment and Operations Coordinating Group; Myrna Chua for the Internal Administration Group; Ma. Edita Tan for Revenue Collection Monitoring Group, and Primo Aguas for Management Information Systems and Technology Group.
The appointment of deputy commissioners was followed by the transfer of 27 collectors to the CPRO. However, 15 of the 27 Customs collectors, with position title of Collectors V and VI, were able to get a temporary restraining order from a Manila court judge preventing their transfer. The court later reversed its decision.
Later, the bureau issued another Personnel Order, this time transferring division heads and directors, including the heads of the CIIS and ESS, to the CPRO.
This was followed by a CPO detailing personnel from different agencies and other government-owned and controlled banks and corporations to various Customs offices, like in the Philippine Economic Zone Authorities, Export Processing Zone Authority and to the offices of at least two deputy commissioners.
Most of the new assigned personnel came from the Department of Budget and Management, Development Bank of the Philippines, Land Bank of the Philippines and National Economic Development Authority.
Meanwhile, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said the Palace respects Sevilla’s rights as a private citizen even if he decides to testify before a congressional investigation.
“Now that he is a private citizen, it is his personal and private decision [whether to testify before Congress],” Coloma said in an interview over state-run Radyo ng Bayan.
Coloma said newly-appointed Customs chief Alberto Lina is more than able to perform the functions of BOC commissioner.
“Commissioner Alberto Lina is determined to continue and finish the reforms that has been started and prioritize the Bureau of Custom’s participation in the looming [Association of South East Asian Nations] integration,” Coloma said.
Coloma said that the Palace is confident the BOC will do effectively do its part as the country becomes part of a more integrated ASEAN.
But Coloma explained that the government’s thrust with regard to ASEAN integration is through concerted efforts by different government agencies and the BOC is one of those entities.
He said that Lina will not have a hard time to implement these reforms and in its participation to the economic integration with the ASEAN members since it will be an effort of the whole government agencies.
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