After Duterte's SONA rant, Ombudsman probes Customs corruption

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Office of the Ombudsman announced on Wednesday, July 24, it will open an investigation into alleged corruption inside the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

"The Office of the Ombudsman has ordered an in-depth investigation into alleged graft and corrupt practices perpetrated by officials and employees of the Bureau of Customs which may lead to criminal and administrative charges," the office said in a press release on Wednesday, the first to be sent by the office after a yearlong silence.

The press release came two days after President Rodrigo Duterte ranted against the BOC during his 4th State of the Nation Address (SONA).

“Bureau of Customs, the corruption-ridden, managed to collect P585 billion in 2018. How much more could have been collected had the BOC been clean and less corrupt?” Duterte said.

Duterte even urged Congress to help him fire officials who are protected by security of tenure.

The Office of the Ombudsman has the power to fire officials, if it finds them guilty of administrative offenses. The firing, or the suspension, usually comes first before the finding of a probable cause for the criminal offense over which the official will undergo trial in court.

The Ombudsman reiterated that in its statement: "If warranted, the Ombudsman may order the suspension or dismissal from the service of erring public officials found administratively liable for Grave Misconduct, Gross Neglect of Duty or Conduct Prejudicial to the Interest of the Service."

Ombudsman Samuel Martires on Thursday, July 25, said that preventive suspension is possible too, or the suspension of the officials even before the finding of guilt in administrative offenses.

The preventive suspension may come as the investigation progresses. Martires said there may be initial results in two weeks.

"I don't think we can proceed with the investigation smoothly if we do not impose preventive suspension," Martires said.

The 2018 audit of the Bureau of Customs revealed the agency has not learned its lesson from past instances of large-scale shabu smuggling at the ports because they continued to illegally release cargo, "causing undue disadvantage to the government in the form of additional revenues to be collected.”

The investigation is launched without the filing of a complaint, which is allowed by the rules and is called a motu propio investigation.

"Under Republic Act No. 6770 (Ombudsman Act of 1989), the Ombudsman as protector of the people, may investigate and prosecute on its own or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public officer or employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper or inefficient," said the Ombudsman.

This was the first press release to come from the Office of the Ombudsman since retired justice Samuel Martires took office and instituted what is effectively a media blackout policy on resolutions and other updates. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.