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We need a strong president

I agree with former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo who said that President Rodrigo Duterte is a stronger president than she was, not because she is a woman and he is a man, but because Duterte likes to confront the challenges that come his way.

In the war against illegal drugs, for instance, he has not buckled down despite condemnation from local and foreign groups, who point to human rights issues in the killing of 2,400 in the past few weeks alone.

Mr. Duterte believes that if he backs down, sooner or later the country will become a narco-political state. Nobody can dispute the fact that the drug menace is destroying the moral fabric of our society and endangering the future of our youth.

There is the fight to defeat the Abu Sayyaf group that has become a national security threat given its affiliation with IS. President Duterte has declared a state of national emergency because of lawless violence.

And of course we know how US President Barack Obama canceled his meeting with President Duterte at the Asean summit in Laos. It was the first time I heard a Philippine president say he is responsible only to Filipinos, when asked whether he would listen to a lecture by Obama on human rights violations.

I say that’s a strong Philippine president for you. Other presidents before him go to Washington on their first foreign trip to pay homage to the Great White Father.

Duterte blasted the US for the massacre of some 2,000 Moros at the turn of the century when the US colonized the Philippines.

My gulay, the Moros were never subjugated by any foreign power—not the Spaniards, not the Americans, not the Japanese.

I certainly want my leader to never consider a US president above himself. No other country can tell our president to do this or that. Even if he crosses the line, he is only answerable to the people who elected him to office.

We may be a weak and small country, militarily and economically, but we are still free Filipinos. We should be proud of it.

Incidentally, insofar as former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is now deputy speaker of the House of Representatives, is concerned, freedom must really translate to good health. She is not only sporting a new look. According to some journalists who have seen her, she appears “blooming.”

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There’s a proposal advanced by former Supreme Court Justice Reynato Puno as chairman emeritus of the Philippine Constitution Association that the power to appoint members of the Judiciary (judges and justices) should be removed from the president. This is to avoid the Judiciary from being politicized.

This has been one of the advocacies that should be considered by a Constituent Assembly in the amendment of the 1987 Cory Constitution.

In the 1935 Constitution, judges and justices were nominated by the Supreme Court, after which they had to pass through the wringer of the Commission on Appointments of Congress, patterned after that of the United States.

When the Cory Constitution was framed, a known legal luminary proposed the creation of a Judicial and Bar Council to nominate judges and justices, which in turn would be appointed by the President from a shortlist.

But since member of the JBC —except representatives from Congress and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines—are appointed by Malacañang, politicization of judges and justices became worse.

This is why I advocate a return to the 1935 constitutional provision—to maintain the independence of the Judiciary. In fact, corruption in the Judiciary worsened because of this.

The JBC, in fact, has become a “tayo-tayo” club. Friends and proteges stood a better chance of getting appointed.

The result: a weak Judiciary where at times temporary restraining orders are sold and even bid out. Even the autonomy of the Supreme Court is being compromised.

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Whether the agency deserves it or not, the Bureau of Customs has become notorious for being one of the most corrupt government entities, neck-and-neck with another Department of Finance agency, the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

I know this for a fact. I covered Customs for many years when I was a young journalist and business editor of the defunct Philippines Herald. But I know too that there are still some honest people there who are trying to uphold the honor and integrity of the agency.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales released a report in March this year which placed Customs as just no. 10 in the 2015 Corruption List of the Office of the Ombudsman. It was a surprising reversal of the widely-held public perception that the bureau was always at the top of the list of most corrupt agencies.

This report could be a prelude to better things to come for people dealing with the agency, especially since the Duterte administration has been positively responding to the clamor for change. And it seems that government agencies, including the much-beleaguered BoC, are riding this wave of change

One indication of these dramatic developments is the appointment of Deputy Commissioner for Enforcement lawyer Arnel Alcaraz, a career official of the BoC. He has served his office with quiet efficiency. While past administrations may overlook the tireless, behind-the-scenes workers in favor of more media-savvy individuals, Alcaraz perfectly fits the mold of the Duterte administration’s no-fanfare, get-it-done approach. Of course it helps that within the agency, Alcaraz has also earned a reputation for his honesty and competence.

Barely a week in his new post, Alcaraz intercepted P3 million worth of the deadly party drug ecstasy, doing so without having to ask for any update of the BoC equipment. All he did was simply to follow protocol. Shortly after that, his division had two more high-profile busts intercepting more than two kilos of cocaine in Clark, and most recently, seizing millions of pesos worth of credit cards, skimming machines, and counterfeit paraphernalia at the airport. Santa Banana, this fellow’s seat isn’t even warm and already the smugglers are feeling the heat!

I asked some oldtimers of the bureau about Alcaraz. They attest to the fact that he is one Customs official who doesn’t compromise nor bow to any political pressure. He holds a law degree from the Ateneo de Manila University and also took an economics course for lawyers at the University of Asia and the Pacific. He started out as a trial attorney of the BoC, and it wasn’t long before he was promoted as assistant chief of the Manila International Container Port.

Alcaraz was also named deputy collector of Naia, but it was in 2005 when he got the more high-profile designation as head of the Run After the Smugglers (RATS) program of the DoF.

At various times, he was acting district collector of the Port of Batangas, Port of Subic and the Port of Manila. It was at the latter capacity where he slapped a deficiency tax on two steel firms for infraction of Customs laws. He also seized more than two million liters of diesel fuel, three barges and two container tankers owned by a prominent businessman. Prior to his new position, Alcaraz was with the Compliance Monitoring Unit of the Office of Commissioner and before that, the Customs Policy research office of the DoF.

It can truly be said that Alcaraz is one of the shining beacons of integrity amid the murky reputation of Customs.

While many may think that the bureau is so rotten, I believe that there still exist good men and women who can resist temptations to get rich quick.

Topics: Emil Jurado , strong president , President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo , President Rodrigo Duterte
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