"I was trying to reach Customs Commissioner Guerrero, but he was unavailable."
The “ber” months have begun with September which signals the good tidings of Christmas for some people like those unscrupulous employees at the Port of Manila, South Harbor.
I remember it was in early September last year when we called out Bureau of Customs (BoC) Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero about the “tara” or “tong collection” by some of his men who targeted imported general merchandise.
I refuse to believe that Guerrero, who has kept his post longer than his two predecessors in Aduana, actually tolerates the continuing corrupt practice.
But I wonder: How can the former Armed Forces chief not know what the hooligans are doing just outside his office building?
How can he not notice the way some BoC officials exude the prosperity of the yuletide season this early, amid the COVID-19 pandemic and massive poverty in the country?
Customs insiders disclosed the resurgence of an old modus: Brokers and importers have been paying P4,000 for every 40-footer container and P2,500 for each 20-footer container for a “hassle-free” and quick processing of their containers.
Some 5,000 containers pass through customs in South Harbor each day so we’re talking about tens of millions of pesos per day.
Under this “tara” arrangement, the BoC personnel no longer open and inspect the containers and, therefore, importers get to pay drastically lower taxes despite the high value goods contained in them.
Some old hands at the waterfront told me only the gullible will believe the supposition that top officials actually do not know about their men’s lucrative rackets.
Unfortunately, the loss of revenues billions of pesos in uncollected tariffs on imports is not only the problem the “tara express-lane” presents.
BoC insiders have it that international illegal drugs traffickers and gunrunners have been using the Port of Manila “tara express-lane” to smuggle in their contraband goods.
Sources in the law enforcement agencies say it was through the same modus that billions of pesos worth of crystal meth or “shabu” were seized in a series of raids recently.
Authorities said the shabu valued at almost P5 billion could not have been smuggled any other way than through BoC until they were found in Zambales and Cavite provinces.
A contingent from BoC joined the Philippine National Police, Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency and the Armed Forces in the operations where four Chinese nationals were killed in a resort in Candelaria, Zambales.
Not many details, however, were disclosed about the Chinese mafia and the origin of the drug shipment that ended up in northern Luzon provinces and Cavite.
President Duterte said illegal drug trafficking is as rampant as ever with shipments worth billions and billions of pesos perpetrated by international drug syndicates.
Digong, in fact, chided Guerrero last year over reports that illegal drugs smuggling continued after his predecessors were sacked one after the other in connection with shabu smuggling through the Port of Manila.
Former Customs commissioner Nick Faeldon was fired in 2017 in the wake of the smuggling into the country of P6.4 billion worth of shabu contained in several metal cylinders.
Former BoC chief Isidro Lapeña who replaced Faeldon similarly screwed up when shabu contained in big magnetic lifters and valued at P11 billion passed through customs and went missing.
I tried to get hold of Commissioner Guerrero for comment on the issue but the BoC chief was unavailable.
Perhaps, the President would like to take a look-see at Port of Manila’s “tara express-lane” for illegal drugs, among other hot items.