Customs chief relieved after P2-million offer

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Sunday, June 19, 2011


CEBU CITY -- A Bureau of Customs (BOC) official was told to transfer effective June 15, several days after he reportedly refused an offer of P2 million for the release of a P15-million batch of black corals.

Captain Jerry Arrizabal, commander of the Customs Police Division in the Port of Cebu, said he will abide by the decision of his superiors in Manila and will do his best, wherever he is assigned.

Arrizabal was transferred to the Port of Davao. He will be replaced by Captain Isidro Estrera, who is currently at the Port of Cagayan de Oro.

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Importers and exporters in Cebu who denounced unscrupulous business owners for illegally harvesting corals suspect that influential coral poachers are behind Arrizabal's transfer.

The offer to Arrizabal was reportedly made by a man who hails from Mindanao and also works with the BOC.

Senator Jose Miguel Zubiri, who visited Cebu to inspect a facility at the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center, said he will include in next month's Senate hearing some BOC officials, especially Commissioner Angelito A. Alvarez and Nestorio Gualberto, director of the Enforcement and Security Service (ESS).

The Customs Police Division reports to the ESS.

Zubiri said the couple from Zamboanga City who allegedly owned the seized black sea fan corals is so influential, that their previous cases of coral poaching have stayed pending for five years.

"Our next hearing will be in July and we will invite the superiors of Captain Arrizabal to shed light on his transfer. Is this related to the seizure of the black sea corals, or what? We will get the truth," Zubiri said.

Last May 31, Gualberto and Horacio Suansing, the deputy commissioner for the Intelligence Group, came to Cebu to inspect the P15-million batch of corals seized by a team that Arrizabal headed.

During a press conference, Gualberto said that Arrizabal's command has been chosen as the Best District Command, while Arrizabal has been picked as the best district commander in the country.

"He is really a very efficient customs police officer," Gualberto said.

However, 15 days after Gualberto said that, Arrizabal's transfer to Mindanao was supposed to take effect.

When asked to comment, Gualberto said the transfer was a decision of Commissioner Alvarez.

Suansing also said the transfer of Arrizabal is part of the rigodon or rotation ordered by the Department of Finance (DOF) secretary.

"For us, Arrizabal is still the best district commander and a very efficient police officer. But it's the policy of the Customs commissioner to transfer customs officials who have been in their assignments for more than two years already," Gualberto said.

Gualberto said the transfer of customs police commanders will involve six major customs ports in the country: the Port of Cebu, Port of Cagayan de Oro, Port of Davao, Port of Manila, Port of Batangas and Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA).

As to the reported P2-million offer made to Arrizabal, Gualberto said he never received a report about it.

Meanwhile, Zubiri, chairman of the Senate committee on environment and natural resources, clarified he has not issued any proposal banning the export of shells and its by-products.

In the past week, shell and shell craft exporters agreed to fight Zubiri's alleged move to ban the export of all shells and shell crafts, saying millions of fishers and their dependents would go hungry if that became the law.

"I have not issued any proposal on the banning of the exports of shells and shell crafts in the country, as we are still investigating the circumstances of the particular case of the black corals, turtles and other marine life that were apprehended by the Bureau of Customs in Manila and Cebu last month," Zubiri said.

The senator said the proposal was made by a resource person, Anna Oposa of the Law of Nature Foundation, who attended the Senate investigation on allegations of massive coral poaching.

"Oposa suggested during the hearing that these shell crafts be banned. It was not the committee chair who suggested it," Zubiri said.

He said he agreed with the observation of the Cebu shell and shell crafts exporters that millions of people will be affected if there is a total ban on shell exports.

Zubiri, however, pointed out that there are laws that regulate the collection and trade of shell species that are rare and endangered.

Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of wild fauna and flora, some shell species are not supposed to be collected, harvested and exported outside. Several Philippine shells are on the list of items that are not supposed to be traded. (EOB/Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on June 19, 2011.

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