FULL TEXT: 'Kita kita sa Customs'

MANILA, Phillippines – On Wednesday, August 23, Senator Panfilo Lacson delivered a privilege speech on the "tara system" or bribery at the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

In his speech, "Kita kita (sa Customs)," Lacson named alleged recipients of bribes in the BOC, led by its former chief, Nicanor Faeldon, as well as the bribe-givers and the bagmen or collectors.

Here is his full speech:

“Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.” So said William Shakespeare many, many years ago. Little did he imagine at that time that more than 10,000 kilometers away and some 400 years later, he would be describing our present day Bureau of Customs. Thus, let me update Shakespeare by paraphrasing him – “Hell is empty and all the devils are at the Bureau of Customs."

And for the devils, the Bureau of Customs is heaven  – a heaven that is a haven for crooks, criminals, malefactors, and faeldons…sorry, I meant felons. 

Mr President, I stand on a question of personal and collective privilege on a matter that this representation has found repulsive and reprehensible since the start of my career as a public servant.

In my years of public service I have always taken the adage: 

“In life there are 3C’s: CHOICE, CHANCE, CHANGE. You must make the choice, to take the chance, if you want anything in life to change.” 

Alas, Mr President, while we see a ray of hope in many government offices, it is undeniable that, over the years, Customs seems to be the one office where darkness and evil always triumph.

A fact underscored by the oft-repeated tale about this lowly guy whose driving ambition was to find employment at the Bureau of Customs. Thanks to the intercession of his congressman, he was able to get a clerical job. After a month of working, he was surprised to find a pay envelope. 

“Wow, may suweldo pa pala dito,” he happily exclaimed.

Mr President, no matter how we pull in the reins, the Bureau of Customs fails big time in our government’s fight against graft and corruption.

The facts are telling: As per the Social Weather Stations, the BOC had consistently topped their polls as the MOST CORRUPT government agency from 2005 to 2016. 

Here’s the problem – periodically, the headlines shout of yet another big tale of corruption at the Bureau of Customs. But the anger and indignation are not sustained.

The corruption mess is deliberately downplayed by the Customs cretins and consigned to the dustbin of journalism history, ably assisted by their cohorts of PR firms, always ready and able to summarily kill a story that puts the bureau in a bad light. 

How many of you still remember the case six years ago of a Customs clerk named Paulino Elevado, who was discovered by accident, literally, to be the owner of a pricey Porsche Carrera sports car? Aside from his Porsche, this Elevado also owned a fleet of six other luxury cars, two houses in an upscale subdivision. His salary? P9,000 per month. 

Clerk pa lang yan, hindi pa bossing.

It is time to bring the intensity of the war against drugs to the war against corruption.

Ramdam na ramdam ang war against drugs.

 Araw araw, ang daming napapatay.

Pero, ang war against corruption, bakit wala na yata tayong naririnig na nakukulong?

I have always believed that in the fight against corruption, we should only have one single standard.

More importantly, we should not attempt to find who our allies, friends, or enemies are. Regardless of anything or anybody, corruption is evil. And there can be, there should be, no compromise with evil.

For over a decade, the Bureau of Customs failed to show improvement in fighting corruption.

The most recent scandal, however, closely impacts the administration’s war on drugs – the very centerpiece of President Duterte’s campaign promises. In fact, drugs and corruption are the two issues that President Duterte emphasizes in his public speeches and media interviews as tops in his list of priorities.

This makes the issue at hand more wanting and controversial than the same-old stories of Customs’ improprieties.

Last Sunday, President Duterte has announced the appointment of PDEA Director General Isidro Lapeña to replace Bureau of Customs Chief Nicanor Faeldon in the wake of the P6.05 billion shabu shipment from China.

Mr President, I pondered that delivering this privilege speech today might be likened to beating a dead horse. However, Mr President, I have come to realize that when it comes to national interest, you do not deal with just one horse. Instead, you decimate the entire stud.

Nearly 3 months ago, media headlined a story of the seizure by local authorities of 604 kilograms of methamphetamine hydrochloride in a brokerage warehouse in Valenzuela City. This latest drug haul is estimated to have a retail value of P6.05 billion.

Initial reports indicated that this successful apprehension of a big haul of illegal drugs was a product of intelligence sharing and cooperation against cross-border smuggling between China and the Philippines Customs authorities. 

However, Mr President, you do not need a title nor a law degree to postulate that something was terribly wrong.

The story as it unfolds sounds more like the inspiration behind the hit movie title, KITA KITA.

First, KITANG KITA natin, because it was so obvious that the enormous shipment was successfully smuggled under the noses or through the indispensable participation of Customs officials.

Second, the huge amount involved showed the obvious – KITA ang KITA. We can see the peso signs in billions.

This exactly is what prompted the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee led by Senator Dick Gordon, in aid of legislation, to conduct an inquiry on what looked like the fast and furious smuggling of 604 kilos of shabu, contradicting the government’s intensified war against drugs.

During 4 public hearings, we have uncovered the identities of key personalities and their modus operandi.

KITA ang KITA. We can easily see the incomes of several Customs officials. A self-confessed “player” a.k.a fixer, Mark Taguba confessed about some payoffs. First, in an executive session, eventually in open public hearings. Yesterday, he presented few names of the Customs officers and bagmen whom he had transactions with. However, Taguba did not spill all the beans.

KITANG KITA natin. We discovered the labyrinth and lexicon of the criminal inside the Bureau of Customs:

The consignee-for-hire;

The selective lane mechanism;

The payola system;

The partner-in-crime relationship between Chinese nationals and our corrupt government officials, complete with middlemen and bagmen.

It is a smuggling mafia out there, Mr President, a criminal state that has no fear of government nor the president.

Kawawa ang Republika ng Pilipinas. 

Suffice to say, Mr President, that our quest to dig up how 604 kilos of shabu neatly hidden in 5 cylindrical roller printing machines from China managed to slip under the BOC officials’ noses has opened up a whole cylinder of worms.

During the hearing of the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee, Commissioner Faeldon admitted that he was aware of the so-called “Tara” system even before assuming office.

He said he tried. His excuse: He could not investigate the matter because he was helplessly alone in eradicating corruption in his domain.

To be more specific, Faeldon said “The appointment of the officers in charge in the probe was just December or January. So for the first 6 months, I was working alone." 

Boo-Hoo! Tell that to the marines, Mr Faeldon, but not to this institution.

Mr. President, records show that as early as July 1, 2016, he already hired the services of Gerardo O. Gambala, Milo D. Maestrecampo, Atty. Mandy Therese M. Anderson and Henry Anthony M. Torres as technical assistants each receiving a monthly compensation of P40,000 to 50,000.

KITANG KITA, the lies. 

Mr President, even granting Mr Faeldon’s assertion that he was working alone, if he was the principled man that he said he is, he should have stood firm even if he was alone.

As head of the Bureau, with the backing of no less than the President of the Republic of the Philippines, Commissioner Faeldon should have started the cleansing in the Bureau by eliminating what has been corrupting the agency for so long, the “Tara” system.

Unfortunately, instead of going against the system, siya ang kinain ng sistema, thereby effectively tolerating and even promoting the impunity of corruption.

Loud whispers in the four corners of the Bureau of Customs compound tell of a P100-million "pasalubong" to the newly-installed Commissioner, a quarter of which, or P25 million was retained as finder’s fee by his middleman named Joel Teves.

If in the AFP, under a previous administration, you end your stint with the infamous “Good bye, Pabaon.” sa Bureau of Customs naman you start your stint with a “Welcome, Pasalubong.”

Holy mackerel! Welcome pa lang, may kita na.

It is an outright cash incentive.

Accepting this pasalubong is a slippery slope.

As they say, “Corruption is like a ball of snow. Once it's set a rolling it must increase.” 

Once one accepts the pasalubong, then the ball of corruption starts to snowball.

At, pag nasarapan na, hahanap-hanapin pa ang dagdag-kita.

And just like taking illegal drugs, they find themselves addicted to bribes in exchange for favors. Tuloy ang ligaya ng mga corrupt. Indeed, loose morals will blur lines.

How can we stop the importation of illegal drugs at the Bureau of Customs if the graft activities of its officials and personnel and the corrupt system persist in the seaports and airports?

The issue at hand would have never happened if there was no collusion by someone with somebody from the inside, whether it is a middle-level official of the bureau or all the way up. 

Kung walang kita, lahat makikita. Kung may kita – eh, wala talagang pagpupuslit na makikita.

Mr President, everybody knows, at the Bureau of Customs, it’s “everybody happy.” They have this so called “payday” Friday / TGIF / Friday-three o’clock-habit, or whatever day of the week and hour of the day they now choose to make themselves happy, and yes – filthy rich. 

So many monikers have been coined for this joyous tradition at the BOC but all refer to a weekly assembly of several customs officials and selected employees, where multimillion peso bribes otherwise known as “Tara” are given and divided up.

Mr President, for the past few weeks, I have been expressing my disbelief with President Duterte’s unusual calm and gentle reaction to the alleged involvement of his people in Customs to the massive volume of drugs that easily made its way to our controlled borders.

Nevertheless, after weeks of public outcry here, there and everywhere for the removal of Faeldon, President Duterte has finally acted and replaced him as  Customs chief. Even for an “honest man,” sabi nga ho natin, it is better late than never.

Now, in case our distinguished colleagues are wondering how and from whom I got all these information, let me tell you as a background, Mr. President, with a little bit of exaggeration – si Nick Faeldon na lang yata ang hindi nakapag-ambag ng datos na ipapakita ko sa inyo sa mga susunod na sandali.

Indeed, when the so-called Customs payola or “Tara” hit the fan and made it to the headlines, information came pouring in.

Quite a number of top and middle-level Customs officials and employees, as well as brokers, even a civic-minded individual who has been gathering information on this matter for the longest time started contacting our office. At least two of those I mentioned directly came to us to provide their own versions of the “Tara” list. 

From various sources inside and outside the Customs Bureau that I had interacted with over the past two weeks regarding the “Tara” list, we carefully vetted and cross-matched each and every information to come up with an objectively filtered and detailed list of who and how much each office or official in the Bureau collects per container per day.

From the list furnished us by various sources, a “standard tara” amounting to a low of P19,000 to a high of P45,000 is paid to the Customs officials in the Central Office for each container.

On top of the “standard tara” paid to Customs Central Office, Manila International Container Port (MICP) officials and employees also collect payola in the amount of P14,700 (on the low side) and P23,700 (on the high side) for 40-footer containers. Hence, the total tara being paid for each container is from P33,700 to P68,700. 

For a 40-footer container for the Port of Manila (POM), the tara of the Customs officials and employees amounts to P15,700 to P26,700. If we add this to the standard tara mentioned above, the total tara ranges from P34,700 to P71,700.  

For a 20-footer container, an additional P12,200 to P20,700 tara for the Customs officials and employees in the Manila International Container Port (MICP) is added to their standard tara, making a total tara for each 20-footer container amounting to P31,200 to P65,700.

For the Port of Manila (POM), Customs officials and employees are receiving taras from a low of P13,200 to as high as P23,700 making the total tara for a 20 footer ranging from a low P32,200 to a high of P68,700.

From this, the share of each office or person within the Bureau can range from a low of P200 to a high of P15,000 per container. Believe it or not, officials from the top offices of the Bureau down to those who monitor the “Gates” and “X-RAY” have their share in the tara. 

What is amusing, Mr President, ang mga dokumento at listahan ng mga tumatanggap ng “Tara” ay naglalaman ng halos pare-parehong mga pangalan ng Customs officials and offices involved, bagmen at operators, maliban sa mga pangalan, (at syempre naman) ng mismong nagbahagi ng impormasyon sa amin.

Having said that, it is almost an easy job to come up with a very credible “Tara” list. So without much ado, allow me to proceed.

Mr President, I beg your indulgence as I have a lot of names to read from this list.

Allow me to start with the list of alleged bribe givers or “players” at the Bureau of Customs:

At this point, here are the names of identified collectors/bagmen:

Meanwhile, here’s a brief summary of the amounts being regularly distributed in the payola system. Please note that these amounts are given per container. 

For Bureau of Customs, Central Office, the following are the standard tara for each office or division:

For Manila International Container Port (MICP) and Port of Manila (POM):

Official records from the Bureau of Customs disclose that, on the average, around 15,000 to 16,000 containers are transacted for release every week at the MICP and POM. Of this, between 6,000 to 6,400 or approximately 40% of the total weekly containers have tara.

Mr President, mayroon po tayong tinatawag na mga "Big Players." Sila ang mga halos naghahari o namamayagpag sa pagpapalabas ng mga kargamento sa Customs.

A total of 390 to 490 containers per day or 1,950 to 2,450 containers weekly are being facilitated by the so called “Big Players” broken down as follows:

Finally, Mr President, here are the recipients of tara/payola at the Bureau of Customs:

For the District Collectors/Officers, the following names were mentioned:

Mr President, an unimpeachable source provided me with information involving a prominent Customs official listed above. For the period covering May 16 to June 28, 2017, Mr. Customs Official’s total encashment amounted to Five Million One-Hundred Nine Thousand Pesos (P5,109,000), with the following breakdown:

The “Tara” System, Mr President, shows that there is a systemic corruption in the Bureau. In fact, with almost every office and official receiving their share of “Tara," the Bureau can give the Mafia stiff competition.

Mr President, the Supreme Court in a ruling said, “we cannot afford to fail either in combating the drug menace or in protecting the individual rights and liberties we have enshrined in our Constitution. Either way, the consequences of continued failure are hard to imagine.” 

The drug problem cannot be solved by focusing on the demand reduction effort alone.

Hindi pa ba sapat ang isang taon at libu-libong napatay ng mga pulis at vigilantes para makita at mapatunayan natin ito?

Since my days in law enforcement, we have always embarked on a two-pronged strategy in combating illegal drugs- demand or market constriction and supply reduction.

True, hunting down big-time as well as small-time pushers and drug addicts in the streets may suppress the drugs market.

But, if our frontline government agency called the Bureau of Customs would allow, consciously or otherwise the convenient smuggling of tons of shabu into our country, it is impossible to win the battle against illegal drugs, simply because the supply reduction side of the anti-drugs strategy is failing miserably.

Parang gripo, patuloy ang daloy ng illegal drugs sa bayan, tone-toneladang ilegal na droga.

This runs counter to the policy adopted by the State as enunciated in Section 101 of Republic Act 10863 otherwise known as the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, to wit:

“[i]t is the policy of the State to protect and enhance government revenues, institute fair and transparent customs and tariff management that will efficiently facilitate international trade, prevent and curtail any  form of customs fraud and illegal acts, and modernize customs and tariff administration.”

This Policy is in recognition of the important role that the Bureau of Customs plays in being the country’s first line of defense against the threats that arise from international trade. The problems that our country is facing now, such as smuggling, fraud and drug trafficking can effectively be lessened if we only fortify our first line of defense on border management. Thus, it is incumbent upon us to address this BOC issue head on and at its core.

There is a saying that every time we need to solve problems, we should dig at the roots instead of just hacking at the leaves.  

If we intend to remain committed to the War on Drugs, we need a War on Corruption.

Mr President, I have known the newly-appointed Customs Chief, General Sid Lapeña, as an honorable man. In fact, I can personally vouch for his integrity. With his appointment as the new Customs chief, I can only hope na hindi siya kakainin ng sistema tulad ng nauna sa kanya.

His highest calling at the moment is to descend to the gates of hell and  destroy the brazen corruption within the country’s most corrupt government agency.

General Lapeña needs to institutionalize genuine reforms, and by genuine reforms, that would mean the abolition of the corruption system from top officials down to the last rank-and-file in Customs.

Mr President, I believe nothing will happen if we do not address the moral bankruptcy that is intrinsic among the officials and members of the Bureau of Customs. 

We should not turn our heads too far from a deeper issue that holds back the progress of our nation. Henceforth, it is also high time to send off an all-out, sustained war against corruption.

And the battle starts at the Bureau of Customs.

I firmly believe, then and now, that it is the only way we can build a better, more progressive future for this country.

Thank you, Mr President.

 – Rappler.com