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Palace yet to act on quit bids of Customs officials

President Rodrigo Duterte has yet to take action on the resignation letters filed by two Bureau of Customs officials accused of accepting bribes to allow the entry of smuggled goods in the country, Malacanang said Saturday.

“The Office of the President has received these resignation letters of Retired Colonel Neil Anthony L. Estrella, Director III, Bureau of Customs; and Mr. Milo D. Maestrecampo, Import Assessment Services Director, also from the Bureau of Customs,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a statement.

“We will update you of any development on the matter,” he added.

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella

Maestrecampo resigned earlier this month after  customs broker Mark Taguba claimed in a House inquiry that he had been giving bribes to a group of IAS officials.

Although Taguba later clarified that he did not give grease money or ever met Maestrecampo, the official said “it was too late” because he was already dragged into the corruption scandal.

Estrella, a former Marine colonel, likewise resigned “out of delicadeza” as the “sensitivity of my office and the methodology it entails have now been compromised by unnecessary publicity.”

On Friday, the Palace said that retaining embattled Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon in his post is part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “concrete action” towards addressing the P6.4-billion shabu mess that slipped his agency.

“So far as we can see, he has retained Faeldon,” Abella said. “So I suppose that’s part of his concrete action.”

On Thursday, Duterte said he had rejected Faeldon’s appeal to be relieved as head of the Bureau of Customs thrice. He also said Faeldon is here to stay because he wasn’t the type of person who could be corrupt.

As this developed, House senior deputy minority leader and Buhay Rep. Lito Atienza has filed House Bill 6220 which seeks to require prior inspection abroad of all shipments destined for the Philippines.

Atienza said he filed the bill to avoid a repeat of the P6.4-billion shabu smuggling case through the Port of Manila.

“All merchandise imports should be physically examined and valued at the port of origin, before the shipment leaves for the Philippines. This is one sure way to prevent the entry of illegal drugs and other contraband into the country,” Atienza said.

“Mandatory pre-shipment inspection is our ‘silver bullet’ against the monsters of smuggling. It is also our best antidote to the poison of systemic corruption at the Bureau of Customs [BOC],” Atienza said.

Atienza’s HB 6220 calls for “the compulsory advance clearance” of all foreign cargoes headed for the Philippines.

Under the bill, the exact nature of all Philippine-bound commodities, to include their quality, quantity and prices, would have to be checked and verified at the country of origin, before the goods are put in containers and loaded onto ships.

The BOC has been reeling from accusations that crooked officials turned a blind eye to the 604-kilo shabu shipment from China that was later seized from a warehouse in Valenzuela City only after the Chinese Customs Ministry issued an alert.

“Pre-shipment inspection is beneficial to everybody. Government will collect higher duties. Legitimate importers will avoid costly product defects and get shipments faster without having to haggle with corrupt BOC agents,” Atienza said.

There are only three groups of people that have historically resisted pre-shipment inspection, Atienza said.

“Those opposed to our proposal are the BOC officials who stand to lose their hefty cuts from the usual misdeclaration or undervaluation of imports; the dodgy traders who will be compelled to cough up the correct duties and taxes; and of course, the politicians moonlighting as ‘padrinos’ of shady merchants,” Atienza said.

Atienza’s bill seeks to amend Section 440 of Republic Act 10863, or the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, which Congress passed only in February 2016.

Atienza said that when the House in the previous Congress passed its version of what would later become the CMTA, the bill actually contained a provision on the mandatory pre-shipment inspection of imports.

“But the provision was opposed by a number of senators at the bicameral conference committee, so it was dropped from the final version of the measure that was eventually ratified by both chambers,” he said.

Topics: President Rodrigo Duterte , resignation letters , Bureau of Customs officials , Neil Anthony L. Estrella , Mr. Milo D. Maestrecampo
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