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Biazon bares who’s behind ‘black prop’

Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon on Friday named former deputy commissioner Gallant Soriano as the “Mr. G.” behind the demolition job against him following reports of rampant smuggling of agricultural and petroleum products. Biazon told the ABS-CBN broadcast network that he did not know Soriano personally but said he understood that he was “well connected” and had entered politics. He also believed Soriano wanted to become the next Customs chief. Soriano denied the allegation in the same ABS-CBN report. “I don’t understand how I got involved in this. I have no application [to be Customs chief]. I’m puzzled where all this is coming from,” Soriano said in Filipino. In a press conference, Biazon refused to confirm or deny that Soriano was the person he referred to when he accused “Mr. G.” of being behind a demolition job against him. “I don’t know the person and I haven’t met the person. I don’t know him, so that’s it,” he said. Biazon has come under fire for reports of rampant smuggling and missed collection targets. Soriano was deputy commissioner for revenue collection and monitoring during the time of commissioner Napoleon Morales during the Arroyo administration. On Monday, Biazon said unnamed groups were working to oust him and identified “Mr. G.” as being responsible for the bad press about him. “I know who you are and I’m watching you. Don’t think you can get away with it. If you want my position, let’s talk and let’s have an appointment with the President, but don’t engage in a media exchange,” said Biazon. A Customs insider said Soriano is linked to a political clan in the northern part of Metro Manila, and is said to be close to the family of President Benigno Aquino III. “Soriano is connected with a politician there. I don’t know the connection but I know he is a very smart guy,” said the source, who asked not to be named. “The family of this politician were the ones calling the shots in Customs during the time of President Cory (Aquino).” Despite calls for his resignation, Biazon said Monday he would not step down unless President Aquino tells him to do so. “I don’t see any reason to do that,” Biazon said. Biazon also brushed aside reports that the Philippines had become “the smuggling capital of Asia” after some P32 billion worth of rice, onions, meat and poultry products and P30 billion worth of petroleum products were smuggled into the country last year alone. Biazon said his agency was taking measures to curb oil smuggling, which the industry says results in as much as P40 billion in foregone revenue a year. Handpicked by Mr. Aquino to bring reforms to the graft-ridden government agency, Biazon has not met revenue targets set by the Finance Department since he was appointed in September 2011. For the first quarter of the year, 12 out of Custom’s 17 ports failed to meet their respective revenue collection goals. The bureau suffered a 10.2-percent or P7.8-billion shortfall after it collected only P68.5 billion as against its P76.3-billion revenue collection goal. Biazon replaced Angelito Alvarez who was sacked for failing to meet collection targets. But President Aquino was cool to the calls for Biazon to resign this week. “The call for him to resign was a result of the many criticisms hurled his way, but Commissioner Biazon knows we have a solid plan for the Bureau of Customs,” Mr. Aquino said. “It is just a matter of agreeing on the timing as to when we implement our action plan. I can assure you everyone will see that what we will implement is a widespread and all-encompassing solution to the scourge that is smuggling,” the President said. Senatorial bet and Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño on Friday added his voice to calls for Biazon to resign after he blamed businessman Ramon Ang of Petron Corp. for allegedly selling smuggled petroleum products. Casino said what outraged him more was when Biazon claimed he did not have the power to stop Petron from dealing with smugglers. “Biazon is just making excuses. He is running away from his responsibility by passing the blame on to Petron chief Ramon Ang,” Casino said. Casino said Biazon should either resign or be fired by President Aquino in the face of rampant oil smuggling. “Biazon is diverting our attention away from the root cause of massive oil smuggling and the Customs’ gross failure to curb it in the country’s ports and economic zones. He is passing the blame to Petron oil retailers by saying that it is not impossible that their stations are selling smuggled oil products,” Casino said. Casiño earlier called on President Aquino to fire Biazon amid reports of unabated rampant smuggling. “May I remind Commissioner Biazon that the Bureau of Customs is tasked not only to ‘enhance revenue collection’ but to ‘effectively curb smuggling’ and ‘to provide quality service to stakeholders with professionalism and integrity’ based on the Bureau’s Mission and Vision statement,” Casino said. “I am more convinced now that Biazon must be forced to leave his post because he does not know or admit the gravity of the problem, and (does) not seem to have the will and the capability to curb smuggling,” Casino said. “How can the problem be solved if he does not want to find out or admit that there is such a serious problem as rampant oil smuggling?” Casiño said. Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano agreed that Biazon should resign if that is the only way to curb smuggling. But House Assistant Deputy Majority Leader and party-list Rep. Sherwin Tugna said that if there is no strong evidence of neglect on the part of Biazon, then he should stay at the bureau. “He should be given an opportunity to prove himself in the Customs,” Tugna said. Agricultural groups had earlier tagged the Philippines as “the smuggling capital of Asia” after some P32 billion worth of rice, onions, meat and poultry products and P30 billion worth of petroleum products were smuggled into the country last year alone. They demanded that Biazon resign and blamed President Aquino for not curbing rampant smuggling despite repeated warnings even from big businesses. With Christine F. Herrera and Maricel V. Cruz
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