Biazon: Politician backers worsen Customs corruption

Aries Rufo
There should be a law prohibiting politicians from recommending people for employment in the bureau, the embattled commissioner says

DRASTIC STEP. Embattled Customs commissioner Ruffy Biazon proposes the abolition of the agency to retire corrupt employees. Photo by Arcel Cometa/Rappler.com

MANILA, Philippines – Embattled Customs Commissioner Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon wants politicians to keep their hands off the Bureau of Customs (BOC), saying they are part of the problem why corruption persists.

A day after President Aquino scolded the bureau in his State of the Nation Address (SONA), Biazon said on Tuesday, July 23, that band-aid solutions would not work in an agency where corruption has become systemic and well-entrenched.

The President criticized 3 agencies for corruption and ineptness – the BOC, the Bureau of Immigration, and the National Irrigation Authority.

Saan po kayo kumukuha ng kapal ng mukha, kayong mga nasa [tiwaling] ahensiyang ito?” the President said in his SONA on Monday. (I wonder, you who are in these corrupt agencies, where do you get the gall?)

Biazon tweeted minutes later that he had offered to resign, but the President reportedly replied to him that he’s still got the BOC chief’s back.

“One of my proposals is to insulate Customs from political influence. How do we do that? We come up with a policy or a law prohibiting recommendations for employment in the bureau,” Biazon said in his press conference on Tuesday.

Without naming names, Biazon said corrupt BOC employees are emboldened with their nefarious activities knowing they have political backers.

“We have come across situations wherein the corrupt ones have the audacity because they know some people are backing them up,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.

A party-mate and losing senatorial bet of President Aquino, Biazon was appointed to the BOC in September 2011. This was after Angelito Alvarez, then Customs commissioner, had to quit for failing to stem falling revenue collections.

However, Biazon himself has failed to reverse the revenue shortfall. He has offered various explanations – excuses, his critics say – why revenue targets have not been met.

This is the first time that he has identified meddling politicians as part of the problem.

Aquino, citing Department of Finance estimates, said that P200 billion in revenues are lost due to corruption in the BOC.

The revenue leakage persists despite weekly efforts of Biazon to file charges against smugglers, importers, and brokers.

Biazon reiterated his call for the total revamp of the BOC, saying that the corruption problem has become deeply embedded that merely reshuffling people would not remove the problem.

“I believe that the extent of the problem is such that sometimes we need to consider drastic solutions,” he said.

He pushed for the passage of the Customs Modernization Bill that seeks to align customs operations to international standards. It also could lead to the reorganization of the Customs, possibly its abolition in its present form and the creation of a new agency.

“If we want reforms in the bureau, we do not stop at just removing people, because what is really the problem? It’s because of a system that allows it to happen. People sees opportunities to do what they want because of cracks in the system,” he said.

Talks about Biazon being replaced due to poor revenue performance have been swirling on and off since he assumed office. – Rappler.com