CUSTOMS Commissioner Alberto Lina on Tuesday admitted he has yet to divest himself of the 16 companies that have direct and indirect dealings with the bureau and insisted there was nothing wrong with his “midnight deals” with friends.
In an interview on Headstart on ABS-CBN, Lina dismissed the accusations of conflict of interest, railroading, oppression and abuse of power simply as “part of his job.”
But Lina backed down, however, when questioned about the one-day hearing that rushed the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, a law with 1,805 sections.
Asian Terminals Inc. and the International Container Terminal Services Inc. had earlier complained that coming up with the IRR after only one day of hearings violated their rights, but Lina said the 100-page IRR was merely a draft.
Lina also said he has granted businessman Ramon Ang, owner of the Manila North Harbour Port Inc., the Authorized Customs Facility to allow the firm to engage in international trade because Ang was a friend.
A Customs official who asked not to be named earlier said Lina granted Ang the ACF even if he had no power to do so and was violating the rule against impairment of contracts.
“The MNHPI carries international freight or foreign goods but duties aren’t paid so I gave them an ACF,” Lina said.
Lina was referring to his June 2, 2016 Customs Memorandum Order 12-2016 assigning the bureau to assume jurisdiction over MNHPI to operate as an ACF, permitting the MNHPI to engage in international trade when it has an existing exclusive contract with Philippine Ports Authority allowing it to engage only in domestic trade.
“It was not a midnight deal. But even if it is already my last day in office or the last minute of June 30, I will still grant it. Ramon Ang is a friend. All of them [port stakeholders] are my friends,” Lina said.
Lina had earlier assured the public that he would divest himself of the 16 companies, six of which have direct dealings with the bureau.
The six, he said, were E-Konek Pilipinas, 2100 Customs Brokers, LGC Logistics, U-Freight Philippines, Inc., New-Ocean Inc. and Air 21.
“According to the law, I think I have 60 days to divest from these companies. My lawyers are studying which of the companies I would have to divest from. I may have to divest myself from all of my businesses, including those that do not even directly do business with the BOC,” Lina had said.
But a week after he made the promise, Lina started running after his companies’ competitors, according to lawyer and Kabayan Rep. Harry Roque, counsel for Agnes Margaroli of the Omniprime Marketing, a competitor of Lina’s E-Konek.
“It took Lina only two weeks (after he assumed office) to cancel a P650 million contract that had undergone two rigorous public biddings to make his company E-Konek, the service provider of the Bureau of Customs, to continue reaping the benefits,” Roque said.
Describing Lina as “shameless,” Roque said Lina accentuated his liability for plunder by granting clearance to the release of broadcasting equipment belonging to the GMA Network handled by two of his corporations—2100 Customs Brokers and U-Freight—allegedly using fake import permits.
He said Lina also refused to act on charges that 2100 Customs Brokers and U-Freight and another of his companies, the Nague Malic Magnawa & Associates were linked to 771 missing shipments of airplane parts for the airline company Zest Air worth at least P1.5 billion.
Lina owns 96.47 percent of E-Konek and remained chairman and major stockholder of his 16 other companies.
Based on Securities and Exchange Commission documents, of the 16 companies that Lina owned, six have continued to reap benefits from their direct transactions with the bureau.
As of Jan. 14, 2016, SEC records show Lina, his family and former Customs commissioner Guillermo Parayno Jr. remained in control over E-Konek Pilipinas, Inc., 2100 Customs Brokers, Inc., U-Freight Philippines, Inc., Nague Malic Magnawa & Associates, LGC Logistics, Inc., Air 21 Global, Inc., New Ocean, Linaheim Corporate Services, Inc., Linaheim Travel & Tours, Inc., Dynamic Outsource Solutions, Inc., UBE Media, Inc., Waste & Resource Mgt., Inc., Solar Lina Energy System Corp., Go 21, Inc., Integrated Waste Mgt., Inc., Lina Farm and Food Services Corp. and Credit Solutions and Business Alliances, Inc.
“Lina’s decision to unceremoniously cancel the contract was a clear case of conflict of interest. He and his conspirators are thus liable for graft,” said Margaroli, in a 30-page complaint.
“The cancellation by Lina was a grave instance of a criminal conflict of interest, manifest illegal partiality and malevolent bad faith because it benefited E-Konek Pilipinas, former Customs commissioner Guillermo Parayno Jr. and Lina himself and his family, as he has a 96.47 percent stake in the company,” Margaroli said.
Parayno was E-Konek’s president and was hired by Lina as his IT adviser in the bureau, Margaroli said.
Lina said he understood that many people were angered by his style of governance.
“In fact, my social media account has 10 million hits. So what? I care for them. That’s why I am doing my job. And I will do my job even to the last drop of my blood,” Lina said.
Lina also defended the drafting of the IRR without consulting the transition team of incoming President Rodrigo Duterte as ordered by Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima to clear all policy actions first with the new team so as not to tie their hands.
“It is my duty as the commissioner of Customs to work on [the IRR], and this is a work-in-progress. It is my duty that the draft of the CMTA is drawn because that was his [Purisima] order before,” he said.
“I think there were semantics over there that makes it [look like] I’m defying the order. I will not defy the order of my boss,” he added.
He also underscored that the IRR he will present to his successor, Nicanor Faeldon, is simply a draft and it will be up to the next administration to accept, revise, amend or scrap it.
“What is wrong with me preparing the draft and handing it over to them? They may change it, they want to revoke it, amend it or what—it’s up to them. But I will prepare the draft so I can hand it over to them,” Lina said.
The Standard earlier reported that freight handlers ATI and ICTSI have both filed letters of protest to question the “hasty passage” of the IRR.
ATI described the abbreviated public hearing as “oppressive” and violated the constitutional rights of stakeholders, but Lina maintained, he is not insisting on his IRR.
“Who am I to insist? These are the works of a committee, the technical group, and the public is being consulted on this,” he said.
Lina said he has informed incoming Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez that he planned to come up with the draft of the CMTA and that the latter has given his approval.
“I told him, ‘Mr. Secretary, I will make the draft and I will hand it over to you. It’s up to you to amend it or whatever. That’s all there is to it,” Lina said.
“We spoke for almost two and a half hours. We had lunch together, and he said go ahead,” Lina said.
Lina said RA 10668 grants him the power to authorize any foreign vessel to take or convey import or export cargoes at any Philippine port authorized by a government contract to handle domestic, import or export cargo.
“The MNHPI, the cargo handling operator of the sub-port of North Harbor, is a grantee of a Certificate of Authority to Operate as an Authorized Customs Facility (ACF) issued on Dec. 1, 2015,” Lina said in his internal memo, a copy of which was obtained by the Manila Standard.
It was also Lina that issued the certificate to MNHPI in December.
On Nov. 19, 2009, the PPA granted MNHPI the sole and exclusive right to manage, operate, develop and maintain the Manila North Harbor for 25 years reckoning on the first day of the commencement of operations renewable for another 25 years.
Under the contract, MNHPI would provide and undertake domestic terminal services at the Manila North Harbor which shall include, but not limited to: cargo handling services, passenger terminal management, parking services, berth management, storage management, water distribution system, security services and ancillary services.
“The right PPA granted to MNHPI is only limited to the management, operation, development and maintenance of domestic terminals. Thus, under the contract, MNHPI is allowed to engage only in domestic trade,” the Customs source said.
The source added that Lina’s order usurped the PPA’s authority by assuming jurisdiction over NMHPI and granting it the permit to engage in international trade.
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