Kim Henares eyed as Customs chief

Rappler learns from Malacañang sources that tax bureau chief Kim Henares is being considered for the top post of the corruption-riddled Bureau of Customs

File photo by Joseph Vidal/Senate Pool

MANILA, Philippines – Internal revenue chief Kim Henares – known for her aggressive campaign against tax evaders – is being eyed to replace Rozzano Rufino Biazon as commissioner of the corruption-plagued Bureau of Customs (BOC).

According to at least two senior advisers of President Benigno Aquino III, Henares is being considered for the top Customs post to institute reforms in the bureau and increase its revenue.

The move comes after the President hit the BOC for corruption and ineptness in his 4th State of the Nation Address (SONA).

READ: Aquino shames customs bureau

Replacing the BOC commissioner is one of the many reforms the government is planning for the revenue-generating agency. Other steps to be taken are changes not just in personnel but in the system and processes.

The aim is to make the reforms sustainable, a senior government official told Rappler.

Other officials are also expected to be replaced as part of the agency’s revamp.

Sources confirmed to Rappler that as many as 50 officials may be booted out of the BOC in an attempt to reform the mindset and culture of the bureau.

Months-long buzz

Talk that Henares would be the next Customs head had been circulating for “around 2 or 3 months,” according to professional services firm Sycip Gorres Velayo (SGV) chair and managing partner Cirilo Noel.

Several Bureau of Interal Revenue (BIR) commissioners have come from SGV.

Henares has earned a reputation of being tough, as a key figure in the Aquino administration’s efforts to improve the country’s revenue collections.

The tax chief is at the forefront of a name-and-shame campaign against tax evaders. Under her watch, the BIR has regularly filed charges against allegedly erring individuals and entities, including personalities considered to be on the other side of the political fence.

Prior to becoming BIR chief, Henares served as tax lawyer in two reputable law offices in the country, head of compliance and legal affairs at ING Bank, and was a development specialist at the World Bank.

With Henares at the helm, BIR has improved its collections unlike the past administration that missed targets.

Improved revenue collections under Henares have been cited by credit rating agencies in their decision to upgrade the Philippines to investment grade status.

This is not the first time that the highly effective BIR chief has been considered for another post. Last year, Henares was nominated to be Supreme Court justice, but she declined the nomination.

Personnel change

Palace sources interviewed by Rappler acknowledged, however, that replacing other Customs personnel cannot happen overnight.

Some laws need to be amended, they said, and Aquino has asked Congress for help on this front.

In his SONA, Aquino pushed for the passage of the Civil Service Code, which aims to consolidate rules for civil service employees. As it stands, various laws, decrees, letters of instruction, and executive orders govern civil servants, sowing confusion.

Current law protects civil servants from outright termination — “except for a valid cause and after due notice and hearing,” according to the Civil Service presidential decree. Those holding permanent appointments are given preference in new appointments when government bureaus are reorganized.

Civil service employees are also allowed to appeal decisions within 30 days. 

Most of those the administration is looking to replace are reportedly Career Executive Service Officers (CESOs). 

“I call on our Congress to examine our Civil Service Code and PD1 (Presidential Decree No. 1), so that we can revise these at the earliest possible time,” Aquino said in his speech.

“I support the development of mechanisms that will restore the integrity of public service; that will ensure that only honest, capable, and principled civil servants will be allowed to enter and remain in government service.”

Confidence remains?

Biazon offered to resign immediately after the SONA, but said Aquino reportedly told him, “My confidence in you remains the same.”

Sources said Aquino continues to give Biazon a chance, but has evidently mulled replacements, with Henares being the top choice.

In the days following the SONA, Biazon himself has dropped hints he is on his way out.

Earlier this week, Biazon told reporters, “I hope you would not take it against me if sometime in the near future I would hang up the gloves because sometimes you begin to think if this is all worth it.”

Since he assumed office in September 2011, Biazon met his monthly revenue target only once.

READ: Customs, corruption: A hopeless case?

Two of Biazon’s deputies – Danilo Lim and Juan Lorenzo Tañada – have also tendered their resignations, but Malacañang said the President has yet to decide on whether or not to retain them.

On Friday, July 26, Biazon also announced even port collectors would be reassigned. They are given until Monday, July 29, to relinquish their posts.

By Saturday, July 27, only 12 of 57 port collectors had submitted their courtesy resignations. – Rappler.com

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