Customs waits for new chief

Posted at 12/04/2013 2:15 AM | Updated as of 12/04/2013 2:15 AM

MANILA, Philippines - With Bureau of Customs chief Ruffy Biazon on his way out, names of his prospective replacements have emerged including revenue chief Kim Henares and Commission on Audit deputy commissioner Heidi Mendoza.

There have been persistent rumors about Henares’ taking over the top BOC post due to her close working relationship with Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima. The BOC and the Bureau of Internal Revenue are under the jurisdiction of the finance department.

Since President Aquino’s State of the Nation Address in July, Purisima has been calling the shots at Customs, even removing officials, including career ones identified with Biazon, a former Muntinlupa congressman and close friend and ally of Aquino.

Henares was a classmate of Aquino since grade school at Ateneo de Manila University. Henares clarified she has not received any offer to head the BOC.

Another female official reportedly being considered for the top BOC post was COA’s Mendoza. Aquino was reportedly keen on appointing another woman to a sensitive post. Aquino’s women appointees include Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, COA chairperson Grace Pulido-Tan and Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman.

In yesterday’s Bulong Pulungan forum at Sofitel Plaza in Pasay City, Aquino joked that his government seemed to be dominated by women.

Three others, all male, are also reportedly being considered for the BOC post. They are Customs deputy commissioner for assessment and operations coordinating group Agaton Teodoro Uvero, believed to be a protégé of Purisima.

Uvero – a licensed Customs broker – is a legal director of the Port Users Confederation, and a law partner of Leonides David, a former officer of the Chamber of Customs Brokers Inc. Uvero is also a former law partner of now Deputy Ombudsman for Luzon Gerard Mosquera.

He is also reportedly close to sacked Customs chief Angelito Alvarez, who has very close ties with Purisima and businessman Alberto Lina of Air21, who allegedly donated a huge amount in the May 2010 presidential campaign of Aquino.

Purisima, Alvarez and Lina had been partners in many companies (like 2GO) that transact regularly at the BOC in Port Area, Manila. Alvarez was president of Lina’s Air21 cargo shipment.

Another candidate to the top BOC post is Dan Honrado, brother of NAIA general manager Jose Angel Honrado. Dan was reportedly a trusted aide of Aquino when he was still a congressman from Tarlac from 1998 to 2007. The last is Gallant Soriano, who served as director of the Customs Intelligence and Investigation and legal service during the time of deposed president Joseph Estrada. The Oretas, who are very close to Aquino, have reportedly endorsed him.

PNoy’s call

Purisima said he would support whoever is named next BOC chief by President Aquino.

“It’s the President’s call and we will work with whoever is chosen to implement the reform agenda of the President,” Purisima said when asked who is being eyed to replace Biazon. Purisima did not say whether he would recommend anyone for the post.

A source at the BOC said at least four brokers were pushing for deputy commissioner for intelligence group (IG) Jessie Dellosa as Biazon’s replacement.

“What is surprising is that at one time their shipment were seized by Gen. Dellosa yet some of these brokers still want him to become the next Customs commissioner. They think that they would get a fair treatment if he heads the bureau,” the source said.

But the former Armed Forces chief was reportedly not keen on taking the position.

In an interview with dzMM radio, Biazon said the next commissioner should have integrity, trust of President Aquino, and the strength to resist temptation.

“What he (President Aquino) needs is someone whom he believes has integrity and someone who would not succumb to temptation,” he said.

While familiarity with the goings on in the bureau would be helpful, determination as well as capability to absorb new knowledge would help the next BOC chief surmount obstacles to reforming the corruption-tainted agency.

“The role of the Customs commissioner is to oversee the agency, not as a collector who should know about the intricacies and technicalities. Of course what is needed is someone who has a solid integrity and has the trust of the President,” he added.

He said eradicating corruption in the BOC is possible but would require an overhaul of the system.

He also said the agency is likely to reach its P300 billion “milestone mark” collection for this year.

“It could be the first in history,” he said. “It is sad to say it will not happen during my watch but I made it possible.”

From January to November last year, the agency’s revenue collection only reached P264 billion as against actual collections of P277.9 billion. Tax expenditure fund (TEF) stood at P2.4 billion. TEF collections are paper revenues from importation by importing agencies such as the National Food Authority (NFA). “This proves to say that the collections have not gone down. It has been up year-on-year,” Biazon said.

De Lima meanwhile denied Biazon’s claim that his name was a “last minute insertion” in the second batch of cases filed with the National Bureau of Investigation in connection with the pork barrel scam.

“There is no such thing as pahabol. The NBI had this process where only those with necessary supporting evidence and documents were included in the charge sheet,” she told reporters in an interview.

“That’s why it took a little time before the filing of the second batch, we wanted to make sure of everything. We did not want to just file and file complaints without verifying evidence,” she stressed. With Evelyn Macairan, Zinnia dela Peña, Edu Punay