Killing fixers on sight

"The President is a lawyer. He should know better."



There is this disturbing news report quoting President Duterte as having called on the military personnel assigned to the Bureau of Customs to kill fixers on sight. This is supposed to show how serious he is in the fight against graft and corruption.

Santa Banana, the President was further reported as saying that soldiers will be fielded there to hunt down fixers. “I told them, if you see fixers, shoot them and throw them into the sea. Do not admit to the killings. Damn those criminals.”

The President was also quoted as saying that the only way is to remove Customs personnel from their posts before they are investigated. “While you are still there, you keep stealing while I keep investigating….I need proof and it is hard to get, and while I investigate you continue with your practice of corruption.”

I don’t know if the President was quoted correctly, but so far he has not denied it. Was he speaking out of frustration? This reminds me of the killing spree of the Philippine National Police upon Mr. Duterte’s assumption of office in 2016, in connection with the war on illegal drugs.

As a democratic country, we still believe in the rule of law and still follow due process. Mr. Duterte is a lawyer and he should know that a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty —yes, even the fixers at Customs.

I covered the Bureau of Customs in the 1950s and 1960s, and I know that fixers are assigned by high officials of Customs in an attempt to isolate them from wrongdoing like smuggling. Thus, even if the President terminates fixers with extreme prejudice, the really corrupt people at Customs will still be there. Killing the fixers won’t solve the problem. It is the system that enables corruption and smuggling and allows them to thrive.

For as long as there are opportunities for human intervention and discretion, there will always be corruption. Anybody who gets assigned to Customs gets swallowed by the system.

My gulay, honest men have been assigned there but corruption has persisted. Incompetent and negligent employees—military or not—are the worst.

My gulay, there was even an attempt to pre-inspect imported goods with the government hiring the well-known Societe de Surveillance (SGS), costing it billions. Soon enough, the people assigned to pre-inspect the imports were also corrupted.

This brings us back to the question —what can be done about Customs to end graft and corruption there?

My answer is privatization. Let the private sector control imports and exports. Just leave the collection of duties and taxes to Customs and the Bureau of Internal Revenue, with the guarantee that the private sector can meet the required revenues. This is done in many countries.

The many businessmen I have spoken to also have the same idea.

With enough political will, President Duterte can finally end corruption at Customs. Is he even listening?

* * *

Can we learn anything at all from the just-conducted mid-year election in the United States?

Personally, I don’t think so. Filipinos and Americans are so different, culturally and politically.

In the first place, the US does not have to rely on Smartmatic for the results. There, results are known soon after the closing of the polls. Americans can even vote earlier if they want to. Here it takes so long for the people to know who won.

We are an archipelago which makes it difficult to know the results right away. Then, our elections are always personality-oriented. We have so many parties and affiliations.

In the US, voters choose from just Democrats or Republicans.

The only thing we can learn from the US elections is that we need a better provider of an automated election system that Smartmatic. I wonder—why does Comelec keep on contracting it? There are also “Little Garcis” in the agency.

Coming right down to it, much of the results do not really reflect the voice of the people. This is why there are two kinds of candidates here: Those who won, and those who cry they were cheated. Speaking of the 2009 polls, nothing much seems different.

In the Senate, for instance, reelectionists and former senators have a great advantage. This is why poll surveys say newbies don’t stand much of a chance.

The real issues that matter are those that pertain to the gut—the rise in the prices of basic goods and services, for instance. Federalism? I doubt if it will be an issue in the elections as people are ignorant of what it is about.

The dominant factor in our elections is funding. It’s money from the usual taipans and conglomerates. This is why political dynasties still rule. People believe elections are a time when they can get back something from those they vote for.

What is most unfortunate are the killings. To many, elections are a life-or-death affair.

Welcome to elections, Philippine style.

Topics: Rodrigo Duterte , Bureau of Customs , Philippine National Police , Democrats , Republicans
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