Wild ghost chaseBy Conrado R. Banal III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Certainly enjoying this titillating ruckus in media over the widespread corruption in the Bureau of Customs, or BOC, are the billionaires who made their piles through this lucrative business called smuggling.
To top it all, mainly because they have established their names in some legitimate businesses in different sectors of the economy, they already secured their places as upstanding, and perhaps even outstanding, citizens of this country.
They are the ones definitely relishing the ongoing wild goose chase of the Aquino (Part II) administration in the BOC, apparently to address what Malacañang indicated as the biggest reason behind the failure of the government to hit its revenue targets.
That is none other than the corruption in the BOC!
In business, the impression is that the administration seems to be obsessed only with the problems in the BOC. Nobody is saying that corruption, whether in BOC or in any other government offices like Malacañang and the executive departments, even including Congress and the judiciary, is always a two-way street.
Let us face it: If there is one single corrupt BOC official, there are several bribers in the private sector! It is possible that the focus by the government on BOC personnel was, perhaps, unintentional. But then again, it may be by design.
Understandably, this anti-BOC episode merely followed the line in the fourth Sona of our leader, Benigno Simeon (aka BS), who even revealed a specific figure—some P200 billion —as the amount of revenue foregone due to corruption in the BOC.
As a reaction to our dear BS’ public censure of the entire bureau, since he did not mention the names of the corrupt personnel there, Customs Commissioner Ruzzano Rufino Biazon supposedly offered to resign.
When our dear leader, BS, reportedly did not accept the resignation, it became clear that Ruzzano Rufino did not have the word “irrevocable” in his vocabulary.
He then wasted no time in announcing his latest move to cleanse the BOC: the across-the-board revamp of the BOC top positions. He ordered 54 collectors of the BOC to leave their positions—all in the best interest of providing service.
The frenzy in media—starting with the anti-BOC diatribe of our dear leader, BS, in the Sona, leading to Biazon’s offer to resign and the reaction of Malacañang to reject the offer, plus the ongoing indiscriminate revamp in the BOC—took an even wilder turn when a top BOC official complained about “powerful forces” behind the smuggling syndicates.
Those forces were presumably some politicos, the so-called padrinos, those strong backers of the supposedly corrupt top officials of the BOC, whose names, according to lawmakers, even Malacañang already knew a long time ago.
The boys in Malacañang took pains to deny media reports that Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. was one of those backers, although they admitted that Ochoa recommended one person to the position of BOC deputy commissioner.
The boys in Malacañang also announced that the Office of the President already approved the proposal of the Department of Finance for one of its units to conduct lifestyle checks on BOC officials.
Really, now, are lifestyle checks on government officials not supposed to be an automatic pursuit of the DOF, particularly its unit called Revenue Integrity Protection Service, or the RIPS, which had always been the office on top of the BOC?
And the DOF needed an approval from our dear leader, BS, to do its job?
Anyway, the DOF and the RIPS—or even the entire bloated organization of the government—can do all the lifestyle checking that all our P2.3 trillion or so yearly budget of the republic can afford to finance, but they can hardly account for the P200 billion in duties and taxes that, according to the DOF itself, the BOC failed to collect.
It is as if all the profits from the widespread smuggling went into the bank accounts of BOC officials. The fact remains that the private businessmen—the actual smugglers—make all the real money. The BOC personnel get the equivalent of some loose change.
We are talking here of P200 billion, a lot of money, by any standard, and so the question still hangs: Where did all that money go?
While in the Senate, our lawmakers are saying that our dear leader, BS, actually knows the backers of the corrupt officials in the BOC. In the business sector, they are saying that the Aquino (Part II) administration knows all along the names of the biggest smugglers in this country.
Just who precisely are the biggest smugglers of fuel or of mobile phone units, or who is bringing into the country truckloads of imported cigarettes, may already be general knowledge in the business sector.
It is hard to believe that the government, with its P2.4-trillion yearly budget, can only be clueless on the identities of those hardcore smugglers.
Anyway, since so far the noise—either from Malacañang or from Congress—seems to be reserved for top BOC officials, including Ruzzano Rufino, it only serves right to spare those billionaire-smugglers from the harsh treatment of media.
Word going around in the business sector is that syndicates actually controlled the racket in the BOC, manipulating the bureau from the outside. It is said BOC officials now merely receive “monthly payments” from those syndicates.
The biggest racket in the BOC is no longer the bribe for every shipment, which is probably the level of corruption in the low ranks of the bureau. It is now a wholesale corruption, managed from the outside of the bureau.
Early in the year, the Aquino (Part II) administration has set the BOC collection target for 2013 at some P400 billion. Apparently because Ruzzano Rufino complained that it was too high a target, considering the slowdown in importation, the administration reduced the goal by P60 billion to P340 billion.
Indications point to another reduction in the BOC collection target for the rest of 2013, perhaps as a consolation to the customs chief humiliated by our dear leader, BS, in his latest Sona.
Still, the administration wants to keep its target for the budget deficit this year at some 2 percent of the GDP. It somehow needs to cover for the cut in the BOC collection. To do this, the administration now puts to task the Bureau of Internal Revenue.
As we all know, to bring up government revenue collection, the BIR is already close to the point of harassing the business sector—small and big enterprises alike—to cough up more tax payments, even if the particular business could not afford them.
We also know that those paying taxes to the BIR are really the legitimate businesses. Thus, they have to cover for the shortfall in the BOC collection, the P200 billion that the government could not collect from smugglers, who remain as “ghosts.”
In the meantime, those criminals are enjoying all this aimless chasing.