Lapeña sacks 38 Customs execs, brings in trusted people

Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña

MANILA — Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña has relieved 38 bureau officials who apparently disregarded his marching orders to stop corruption and “benchmarking” in their respective posts.

Benchmarking involves imposing a discretionary value, instead of the correct valuation, on each shipping container sent to the country.

At the same time, Lapeña has brought in his “trusted people” from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), which he used to lead before his appointment to the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

Relieved from their posts were eight district collectors and 30 section chiefs of the BOC.

The district collectors were Elvira Cruz of Port of Cebu, Romeo Rosales of Port of San Fernando, Julius Premediles of Port of Limay, Jose Naig of Port of Iloilo, Carmelita Talusan of Port of Subic, Divina Garrido of Port of Legazpi, Halleck Valdez of Port of Zamboanga and Tomas Alcid of Port of Appari.

Their relief, done through a customs personnel order (CPO) released on Oct. 4, was due either to their poor performance in revenue collection or to benchmarking, Lapeña said.

Lapeña said benchmarking “often leads to importers giving “tara” (payola) to BOC personnel to fast-track the processing of their shipments.

The customs commissioner has repeatedly asked BOC personnel to stop the practice of tara and to immediately do away with benchmarking and instead apply the correct valuation of goods.

“I personally monitor the ports including its daily collection performance and it is apparent from the records that benchmarking is still being used in the assessment of duties and taxes. This has to stop immediately,” Lapeña said on Monday.

“I told everyone there, I will work within the bureau. I will be one with them. But we must be all moving in one direction and that is removing corruption at all levels,” Lapeña said.

In separate CPOs issued on Sept. 27, 30 section chiefs from the Formal Entry Division (FED) of the Port of Manila and the Manila International Container Port (MICP) were removed from their posts and reassigned to various provincial collection districts.

The FED assistant chiefs of the two ports were designated as acting chiefs following the major revamp.

Before the relief of the 38 officials, Lapeña relieved district collector Vincent Philip Maronilla, who headed the MICP where the P6.4-billion shabu shipment passed through on May 23.

Lapeña also ordered the transfer of acting Port of Manila district collector Ma. Rhea Gregorio on Sept. 11.

The eight district collectors, as well as Maronilla and Gregorio, were all reassigned to the BOC Compliance Monitoring Unit.

“There will be more reshuffling if the BOC personnel will not cooperate in the reforms we are making,” Lapeña said.

President Rodrigo Duterte named Lapeña BOC chief a few weeks ago to replace Nicanor Faeldon, on whose watch a shipment of P6.4 billion worth of “shabu” (crystal meth) from China got past customs personnel in May.

Faeldon was also accused of doing nothing to curb the tara system that enabled importers to facilitate the release of their shipments by paying off BOC personnel.

The customs chief said he would strictly implement a “no-tara, no-gift and no-take” policy at the BOC.

Lapeña said his program was aimed at stopping corruption, increasing revenues, ensuring trade facilitation, strengthening antismuggling efforts, and enhancing incentives, rewards system and compensation benefits for BOC personnel.

Collections of import duties and other taxes from January to September jumped 12 percent year-on-year to P321.6 billion. However, the BOC’s nine-month take was below its P336.6-billion target.

The BOC has been tasked with collecting P122.8 billion in the fourth quarter to achieve its full-year target of P459.6 billion, equivalent to 3 percent of the gross domestic product.