President Rodrigo Duterte is placing the Bureau of Customs under the supervision of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The President hopes that the military’s presence will help address corruption and drug smuggling at the graft-ridden bureau.
In a speech on Monday, Mr. Duterte also said that Customs officials will be placed on floating status.
Newly installed Customs Chief Rey Leonardo Guerrero will choose the AFP personnel to help him run the bureau. Palace Spokesman Salvador Panelo is confident Guerrero will choose “people with expertise” for the daunting task.
Meanwhile, the intelligence body of the agency will directly report to the Office of the President.
President Duterte’s decision to place the military in charge of the controversial agency was spurred by allegations that some P11 billion worth of shabu found its way to the streets. Manila port officials supposedly looked the other way so they could be cleared.
Curiously, however, he merely assigned then-Commissioner Isidro Lapeña as director general of the Technical Skills and Development Authority (Tesda)—a position with Cabinet rank.
Now that the military is descending on Customs, some quarters are concerned this may be the start of the militarization of civilian-led agencies of government—despite the Palace’s insistence that such a move is temporary, and only until the President becomes satisfied with the way the bureau is run.
We agree that the Bureau of Customs is in a class of its own. Prior attempts to change the immutable culture of corruption over the decades have all failed. Any individual put in charge of the BoC either quits in frustration at his inability or is accused of profiting from corrupt practices that are encouraged and enabled by the system.
This is also exactly why even a desperate solution like this one still merits a fair amount of doubt. What is our guarantee that the AFP personnel who will be handpicked to lead Customs will end up changed by the system instead of changing it? Who is to say when the bureau’s performance has become acceptable to President Duterte, enough for him to lift the order? How can we be sure that this is not going to be the same dog with a different collar?
For now anything other than the status quo is an improvement. The public will watch whether this approach even makes a dent, or this is just another desperate measure that will doom us to despair.