FIRST on what the president and Congress cannot do to the Bureau of Customs.
 They cannot shut it down or abolish it. It performs a vital function, revenue collection, although it earns much less than the BIR, which collected P848 billion, compared to BOC’s P210.3 billion in first half of 2017.
 They cannot continue changing leaders and managers in the bureau; sooner than later, the system “eats up” honest administrators.
 They cannot prosecute so many bureaucrats, as almost everyone there is infected with the corruption virus. Building evidence of bribery is tough. Lifestyle check? Apparently, that hasn’t worked or hasn’t been seriously done.
There were other measures enforced or planned in the past: Pre-shipment check abroad before the cargo leaves for the Philippines. Privatization of the service. Improving the pay of officials and employees.
None has succeeded. Customs watchers say that much depends on the sitting president. BOC is what the president wants it to be. He handles the lever to stop, moderate or escalate the looting. Even Noynoy Aquino who won on a “walang kurap” platform was a colossal failure at Customs.
President Duterte has repeatedly said he won’t tolerate corruption. Any official who just smells of graft is out, Duterte said, no need for due process. When Nicanor Faeldon, the customs chief during whose watch multibillion-peso cargoes of illegal drugs sailed through the BOC express lane unimpeded, began to stink, the president said his Customs chief was an honest man. Eventually, he let him go as evidence piled up at the Senate hearings.
Slow reaction to the customs scandal has been puzzling because the smuggling that broke the scandal involved illegal drugs. Police were scrambling all over to seize minuscule sachets of shahu, even gunning down small-time dealers, while huge shabu shipments were coming in right through BOC gates.
But it’s no longer just the drugs crisis that the Customs scandal has highlighted. It’s now whether the government will remain helpless over the BOC abomination, whether mafia that controls the bureau’s corruption will continue to be, as Lacson alleges, “more powerful than the government or the president.”
It’s a defiance and an insult that scoff at the capacity of the state to reassert its control over a vital bureau.
With revenue direly needed to reduce rising deficit funneled into private loot bags. With the rot and stink assailing the nation’s sensibilities. Our president would have long routinely barked, “pu**ng ina.”
Published in the SunStar Cebu newspaper on August 29, 2017.
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