WHO ELSE? Sen Francis Escudero says the Senate must probe the alleged padrino system in Customs. "Who else will look into this if we ourselves turn our eyes away from it?" File photo by Senate PRIB/Alex Nueva España
MANILA, Philippines – Will Customs officials name the politicians interfering with their work in the turf of these lawmakers?
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Francis Escudero is calling on the Senate to investigate the alleged “padrino (patron) system” in the Bureau of Customs (BoC) following statements from Customs officials that politicians worsen corruption in the agency.
Escudero filed a resolution on Tuesday, July 30, asking the Blue Ribbon, Ways and Means and Finance Committees to look into the system entrenched in the bureau.
The senator said the political patronage reportedly involving senators, congressmen and relatives of high officials “cannot and should not be ignored anymore.”
“We in Congress should police our own ranks. Who else will look into this if we ourselves turn our eyes away from it,” Escudero said in a press statement.
Escudero said a probe is necessary to cleanse and reform Customs as the second biggest source of government revenues.
“The BoC has long been perceived as the most corrupt agency in the government. Its performance in terms of revenue collection is a major instrument for the government’s target programs. Any deficit is directly proportional to the public’s disadvantage.”
Escudero cited Section 14, Article 6 of the Constitution as forbidding any intervention from members of Congress with any office of government for his or her benefit.
He also said that the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act defines “persuading, inducing or influencing another public officer as one of the corrupt practices punishable under the law.”
The resolution comes a week after President Benigno Aquino III shamed Customs officials in his State of the Nation Address (SONA) for corruption and incompetence.
“Saan po kayo kumukuha ng kapal ng mukha, kayong mga nasa [tiwaling] ahensiyang ito?” the President said in his SONA. (I wonder, you who are in these corrupt agencies, where do you get the gall?)
Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon offered to resign after the speech but has since stayed on. The embattled customs chief seeks to reform the agency by reassigning port collectors and other officials.
Without naming names, Biazon has said that corrupt BoC employees are emboldened 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.
Lawmakers have since called on Biazon to name names but he has yet to do so.
His two deputies - Danilo Lim and Juan Lorenzo Tañada – also offered to resign after the SONA but Malacañang said the President has yet to decide on whether or not to retain them.
One to two weeks before probes begin
Senate Blue Ribbon Committee Chairman Teofisto “TG” Guingona III said it will take a week or two before he completes organizing his committee and the group can decide on its agenda and start holding hearings.
“With all the things in the newspapers these days, the Blue Ribbon committee will be really busy,” Guingona said in an interview Monday.
Like Escudero, Senate Majority Leader Alan Peter Cayetano has called on Customs officials to name the politicians seeking to influence the bureau.
“They need to name the names and the circumstances because sometimes [politicians call Customs] because you need information for budget hearings while some are accused of blackmailing. There are cases politicians call but not to protect a smuggler or release contraband so to get to the bottom of the issue, it’s better the customs official name names,” Cayetano has said.
Cayetano said an investigation will help so that not all senators and congressmen will be suspected of influence-peddling. He also called for a lifestyle check on Customs officials.
He said it is not enough that Biazon reshuffles officers in the agency.
“If someone is guilty, take him out and file cases and don’t just reshuffle …. For me, it’s not a reform measure but a simple reorganization,” Cayetano said.
“People want tangible reforms. People want to see this issue resolved.” – Rappler.com