Court extends TRO on Customs employees' transfer
MANILA, Philippines - The Bureau of Customs collectors won another round in their court battle against the order of the Department of Finance (DOF) transferring them to a policy and research office.
In a 6-page ruling on October 4, Manila Regional Trial Court Presiding Judge Felicitas Laron-Cacanindin granted the petition of the Customs collectors to extend the temporary restraining order (TRO) suspending the petitioners' transfer until October 21.
The 20-day order includes the 72-hour TRO the court originally issued on October 1, the court said.
The TRO stops the DOF and the Customs bureau to implement Customs Personnel Order (CPO) No. B-189-2013, which temporarily transfers the petitioners to the Customs Policy Research Office (CPRO).
It added: "At this point, this Court is tentatively convinced that...the implementation of the CPO is violative of the petitioners' rights."
It noted that the period over which the CPO is in effect has no "determinate end period when the personnel involved…will report back to their original posts which is blatantly contrary to Civli Service rules."
The court said " the petitioners' tenure as career service and tenured public officers are put on the line" if the CPO is implemented, and that their tenure, as well as "reputation and stature that they have built for themselves in exchange of the dedication, toil and hard work through the years that they have invested into the service, is at the brink of dissipation due to the impending implementation" of the CPO.
The petitioners' lawyer, Reody Anthony M. Balisi had said that the CPO is "tantamount to their demotion although not necessarily related to the diminution to their basic salary but rather removing them from their current status as managerial employees exercising certain powers and authority."
This is far removed from the petitioners' current roles, which include seizing goods, ordering the arrest and filing of cases against smugglers, their counsel said.
The order, Balisi said, "classified the petitioners as mere 'researchers' of an office whose main objective is to come up with policies and rules that will further the revenue generation of the Bureau of Customs."
One of the petitioners, "Customs 5" collector Ma. Lourdes V. Mangaoang, took the witness stand during the October 2 hearing and said that she "received text messages, comments and heckling among her colleagues and detractors" regarding her "demotion."
The petitioners are:
- Ronnie C. Silvestre
- Edward P. dela Cuesta
- Rogel C. Gatchalian
- Imelda D. Cruz
- Lilibeth S. Sandag
- Raymond P. Ventura
- Ma. Liza S. Torres
- Arnel C. Alcaraz
- Ma. Lourdes Mangaoang
- Francis Agustin Y. Erpe
- Carlos T. So
- Marietta D. Zamoranos
- Carmelita M. Talusan
- Arefiles H. Carreon
- Romalino G. Valdez
Senior State Solicitor Noel Cezar Segovia and State Solicitor Omar Romeo argued that the court does not have jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case" since the order is an internal administrative issuance.
They also stressed that the petitioners went straight to the court without exhausting available administrative remedies, including airing their grievances first before the Customs commissioner or the finance secretary.
They said the order is part of the efforts to "tap the expertise of the petitioners" as customs collectors, adding that their salaries and tenure are not affected.
Reforms vs smugglers
On October 2, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima assailed the previous TRO for disrupting the reforms the government is implementing at the agency.
In a statement, Purisima said, "Reform at the BOC is an absolute necessity directed by President Aquino himself. The implementation of this order is crucial not just to restoring trust in the BOC but to stamp out smugglers once and for all."
President Benigno Aquino III said in an October 2 speech that the series of orders to reform the bureau is part of efforts to press the "reset button" on the agency.
"It became clear to us: if we only shuffled officials among different positions, and allowed them to remain where they could still do harm, nothing would ever come out of our efforts," he said in his speech before the Brotherhood of Christian Businessmen and Professionals (BCBP) at the SMX Convention Center.
"Our answer: a reset button for the agency that has long been the face of corruption in government."
He said they replaced "quite a number of people in very key positions."
Customs is the second biggest revenue collecting agency of the government. - Rappler.com
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