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Customs chief refutes ‘baseless allegations’

“Guerrero’s stout defense of his performance in the agency casts doubt on the accuracy of the list released by Sotto considering that all the agencies named in the Senate report are direct partners and participants in the government’s all-out war against smuggling”

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Before the Marcos administration assumed office on June 30, then Senate President Vicente Sotto III dropped a bombshell by revealing to media a supposed list of 22 people allegedly involved in the smuggling of agricultural goods into the country.

While Sotto could have focused on the lawmaking accomplishments of the Senate, he devoted much time discussing the results of Senate Committee Report 649.

This was the product of a 6-month investigation — in aid of legislation, as the Constitution says — on the issue of agricultural smuggling that the chamber conducted between December 2021 and April this year.

The report named individuals from the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Agriculture as “protectors” of the alleged smugglers.

Among those in the BOC named in the report was no less than Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero.
Guerrero was appointed to the top Customs post by Rodrigo Duterte based on his performance as Armed Forces chief of staff.

During his military career, Guerrero was a highly respected and bemedalled officer who rose from the ranks to hold the highest military position.

Guerrero has vehemently denied any shenanigans in the agency that he heads.

In the first place, he said, he also has access to other law enforcement agencies. Based on his inquiries, the AFP, the Philippine National Police and even the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency had already denied providing the list to the Senate.

NICA director Edsel Batalla, who represented the agency during the hearings, also contradicted Sotto’s claim that it was the agency that gave him the list.

“Yes,” Batalla told media last June 28, 2022, the NICA has a record of suspected smugglers and their protectors but, he emphasized, it was “different” from the list released by Sotto.

The question thus arises: Why would these agencies, apart from the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine Coast Guard, be interested in putting the BOC and Guerrero in a bad light considering that all of them are directly involved in all of the BOC’s anti-smuggling campaigns since Guerrero assumed office in 2018?

People are therefore beginning to wonder whether the Senate’s ‘smugglers list’ can really stand close scrutiny. Did the people who drew up the list have an axe to grind against the BOC for one reason or another?

Guerrero insists that the BOC has been transparent in conducting the campaign against all forms of smuggling up to now.

In effect, Guerrero’s stout defense of his performance in the agency casts doubt on the accuracy of the list released by Sotto considering that all the agencies named in the Senate report are direct partners and participants in the government’s all-out war against smuggling.

In fact, SCR 649 merely noted that last May 17, 2022, the Senate received a “validated report” of suspected smugglers and their protectors but failed to disclose who actually provided the list and who validated it.

It is also worth noting that more than a week before Sotto disclosed the contents of the Senate report, the BOC had just weathered a barrage of negative news reports and opinion pieces accusing agency officials, including Guerrero, of involvement in corrupt activities.

But these news reports and commentaries lacked ample proof, and the demolition job against the BOC soon fizzled out.
The supposed ‘smugglers list’ has thus raised suspicion that the Senate may simply be an unwitting tool used by unseen hands with ulterior motives.

It should also be pointed out that when the Senate held its first hearing on December 14, 2021, Guerrero had already challenged the senators and critics of the BOC’s handling of the anti-smuggling drive to “name names” so he can have them investigated and removed if warranted by concrete evidence.

Guerrero says that he has not received any “validated report” on who among his subordinates are involved in smuggling activities.

Both President Duterte and Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, up to their remaining days in office, apparently had not received any documented complaint against Guerrero for participation in wrongdoing in the agency.

Since he believes that his name has been tainted by unjust and unfair allegations, Guerrero is taking the right step in challenging Sotto and others to haul him and his subordinates before a court of law where they can have the chance to face their accusers and defend themselves.

At a time when fake news, disinformation and misinformation abound in both mainstream and social media and manage to drown out the facts and the truth, public officials like Guerrero pilloried in public for supposed monkey business while in office can and should demand that allegations of wrongdoing should be supported by incontrovertible evidence.

Otherwise, the purveyors of plain rumors, half-truths and outright falsehoods will simply rule the roost, reduce our justice system to irrelevance and even bring it down to its knees.

(Email: ernhil@yahoo.com)

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