Breaktime: Tested interest
Immediately, the business sector sees a horrible conflict of interest in the new appointments of our leader Benigno Simeon, aka BS, in the notorious Bureau of Customs (BOC), involving an alleged smuggling case of a multinational corporation.
In the face of this exacerbating pork barrel scandal, both the congressional and the executive varieties, the business sector continues to watch the development in other delicate government agencies, particularly the BOC.
It so happened that last week, the Aquino (Part II) administration finally started to implement its long overdue promise to revamp the BOC. It seems that our leader, BS, appointed four new deputy commissioners. Customs Commissioner Ruzzano Rufino Biazon also transferred 27 “district port collectors” to some forgettable positions, replacing them with their next-in-rank collectors as OICs.
From what I heard, the Palace wants more heads to roll in the bureau. In business, they are starting to wonder why the BOC has failed to meet its monthly target for the past 24 months—straight.
Last month, from what I gathered, the BOC posted a P2.5 billion shortfall in its collections, as against its monthly target.
In the past, BOC boss Ruzzano Rufino always blamed the BOC collection “slippage” to trade liberalization, slowdown in importation due to the strengthening of the peso and some seasonal ups-and-downs of imports.
For instance, he blamed the P7 billion shortfall in collection last March (target of P28 billion versus actual collection of P21 billion) to the “traditionally a lean season for imports” after the yearend holidays.
He forgot to explain why BOC units at the Clark airport and the Subic Bay Freeport were able to achieve their targets in those same months. In fact, as early as June, those BOC units already met their collection targets for the entire 2013.
Surprisingly, despite the dismal performance of the BOC, it took the Aquino (Part II) administration almost three months to do the much-awaited revamp of the BOC, after our leader, BS, castigated the entire bureau in his latest Sona in July.
Presumably, after three long months, Palace officials—not to mention the DOF (Department of Finance), which is the department in charge of the BOC—must have checked and double-checked the prospects for the top positions in the BOC.
Yet an obvious case of conflict of interest is now the talk of business town. It supposedly involves one of the new appointees to the position of BOC deputy commissioner. He reportedly served as a lawyer for the multinational company that has been facing a P1-billion smuggling case.
The company is Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines, and its case involves some P1 billion in unpaid duties and taxes for alleged “misclassification and undervaluation of sugar premixes and high fructose corn syrup.”
Coca-Cola Philippines had 25 separate shipments of imported liquid sugar from March to October 2011, declaring them as something entitled to zero duty and tariff.
Enter the Sugar Alliance of the Philippines, an association of sugar cane planters, sugar millers and sugar refiners in the country, claiming to represent some 90 percent of total domestic sugar production.
The association filed a case against Coca-Cola Philippines for alleged “misdeclaration” of those sugar imports, and early last year, the BOC ruled that, indeed, Coca-Cola Philippines in effect cheated in those 25 separate shipments.
Instead of the zero duty and tariff that Coca-Cola Philippines should have enjoyed for those imports, the BOC ruled that the company should have paid duties of about 38 percent.
The BOC made the ruling in April last year, but Coca-Cola Philippines filed an appeal with the bureau. The appeal was brought up to the office of the customs commissioner, which at that time was already occupied by Ruzzano Rufino.
The appeal of Coca-Cola Philippines has been pending for about one and a half years now. What has been taking the BOC that long to decide on the case is still a matter of speculation in the business community, particularly in the sugar industry.
It so happened that only last week, the Palace appointed four new deputy commissioners in BOC. Reports said that one of the new appointees is a lawyer named Agaton Teodoro Uvero.
He is a senior partner in the GUS law office, or the Gaticales Uvero Sto. Tomas law firm, and reports said he was supposed to become the deputy commissioner for AOCG, or the assessment and operations group.
Within the bureau, the position is known to be a coveted one.
From what I gathered, anyway, in the reported P1-billion case of Coca-Cola Philippines, the BOC created a five-member special assessment body to decide on the appeal.
Guess what—the chair of the deciding body is none other than the deputy commissioner for AOCG. Yes, boss, the very same AOGC to which the senior partner of the GUS law firm is to become the boss!
Here is the thing: According to word going around in the sugar industry, the very same GUS law firm was the counsel of Coca-Cola Philippines in that very same P1-billion case before the BOC.
Word also goes around that Uvero is a good friend of former BOC commissioners, not to mention an influential Cabinet member.
Thus, just who recommended Uvero to our dear leader, BS, should give him a clue as to who to trust and not to trust among his boys. Don’t they undergo some sort of test or something over their vested interests?
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Question: How many families can we feed with 4,000 bags of rice?
Let us assume that a family of six consumes about three kilos of rice a day, or about 90 kilos a month. Those 4,000 bags of rice—–at 50 kilos per bag—should be around 200,000 kilos. Thus, the rice can feed more than 2,200 families for one whole month.
Now the figure of 4,000 bags of rice did not come from thin air, because it was the same figure cited by the special audit office of the COA, or the Commission on Audit, in its Report No. 2012-13 covering the National Food Authority.
The COA audit team reported that it could not find any proof that some 4,000 bags of rice that were bought with the pork barrel funds of a certain congressmen reached their intended beneficiaries.
The pork barrel funds, according to the audit team, were the allocation of former House Speaker Arnulfo Fuentabella, amounting to more than P16 million, supposedly released for payment of rice procured from the NFA.
According to the COA report, the P16 million came from the almost P200 million pork barrel allocation of the former speaker from 2007 to 2009. Thus the COA report questioned other items in the pork of the former legislator.
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