Kill them all and come back alone

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By Jun Ledesma

Sunbursts

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


SMUGGLING of rice and various commodities through Davao Customs Port is as indestructible as the barnacles that cling to the columns in the wharves at Sasa in Davao City, Makar in General Santos City, Polloc in Parang and some sub-ports to include those which are privately operated.

A few years ago, on the eve of local and congressional elections, forty 40-footer vans were intercepted by a newly installed Customs Collector in Davao. Because the examination area was transferred to a privately-owned customs warehouse on account of the repairs, rehabilitation and widening of the Sasa Port by the Philippine Ports Authority the X-ray machine was consequently transferred at the designated examination area. For some mysterious reasons and agenda, the previous Customs authorities interred into a 25-year contract for the free use of that 1,500 square meter lot even as they knew that the PPA facilities will be expanded to accommodate the growing traffic of cargoes in the Davao Customs port in a year or so.

I have heard rumors of smuggling in Davao but I have to confess that Customs port is one beat that never interested me. I knew that the area is crawling with rats and I do not mean rodents so I keep away from it. But that eve-of-election incident at the Davao prime port really caught my interest because seven Davao City Councilors along with a retinue of media personalities, some of them bogus, harangued the Customs investigators to release the 40 vans of misdeclared cargo, which turned out to be rice. Why the local legislators trooped to the port area was really intriguing. It is not customary for councilors to step into the affairs of the Bureau of Customs knowing that it is a national agency with its own set of rules and regulations.

As it turned out, the consignee is a ghost firm. So what’s and for whom were the legislators acting like mad for? The cargo was ordered seized and thereafter auctioned. But that’s not the end of the story. For doing the right thing, the just-installed Customs Collector, Anju Castigador, was hauled to court, at one point ordered incarcerated by former Judge George Omello and as if that was not enough was indicted by the Ombudsman. His fault? Seizing the contraband and obeying an order from higher authorities to rescind the onerous contract with the private warehouse and obeying the Supreme Court order to do all examinations of cargoes within the premises of PPA. The poor guy whose short term marked the highest revenue collections of Davao Port was eventually ordered dismissed. But what adds oddness to this episode was that at the height of the controversy an organized group of so-called crusaders against corruption, which was led by a Jesuit priest, worked tooth and nail to revert the examination of cargoes to a privately owned compound.

The group was obviously well-funded for they bought advertising spaces in national papers unabashedly demanding that the examination of cargoes be done in the private compound! The priest was later seen frolicking in snow somewhere in Europe with a part time cable TV journalist-cum politician who shared the same agenda as the man of the frock in ousting Castigador.

The same cable man joined the Aquino administration in what is now a failed program to talk peace with the New People’s Army.

So there you are. What can one make out of the convoluted issues and corruption surrounding the Customs Bureau? An official doing the right thing will be up to an organized conspirators to get rid of him or her because it is written and decreed that no upright personnel must last in the BOC. That is the nature of the beast so to speak.

Why?

Smugglers earn billions of pesos in illicit trade and free of tax. The big operators are protected by politicians in high places and regulators and people cloak in religious habits. I was told that before those 40 vans of rice were seized by BOC on orders of Castigador five vans of illegal rice shipment already slipped out of Sasa, repacked and distributed to fire victims in Tibongco.

While City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte then, in behalf of the City Government, was giving out relief items that included two kilos of rice, there was this other source of aid that gave out five kilos of premium rice. No one bothered to question that. It was election time. Thence came the huge shipment of rice which was seized on orders of Castigador. The suspicion was that the rice shipment was made in behalf of a local political bigwig and his allies, among them city councilors, courtesy of some Chinese trader or traders based in Binondo, Manila. Now you know why some of our “doble cara” local legislators attempted to have that controversial shipment released.

The syndicates in the Bureau of Customs are so powerful neophytes like Ruffy Biazon is actually welcomed by them as a gift from Malacañang. The smuggling syndicates have not ran out of creative means to land their cargoes. When authorities are hot on them they feign defect in the boom of their cargo ships and dock on a shipyard where they unload their contraband. They transfer cargoes in the high seas using domestic vessels. They chop vehicles and declare them junk. We now see these junks as our principal means of private transportation. They siphon oil from tankers anchored in isolated coastline into waiting truck tankers. Expensive luxury vehicles consigned to anonymous entities and individuals only to be bid out later to favored clients who of course would line the pockets of crooks at the BOC.

The big rice smuggler, a certain David Tan, had been named but it is just a name, faceless and incognito. With all the resources of the national government it is a wonderment that it cannot arrest and unmask the suspect. My take is that the David Tan is non-existent. But that does not mean there is no warm body in this phantom who was given by this inept government the authority to import rice way beyond the term of the Malacanang tenants.

Mayor Rody Duterte is now out hunting his prey - the brain of rice smuggling in this country. He might end up his search in the palace by the Pasig River. You noticed that even before Digong can crack his whip or cock his gun, there is a perceptible campaign to discredit him. The notorious David or Dennis Tan now has a new suffix in his name – Bangayan. Some of the Bangayans are friends of Digong. And then came the admonition of the Human Rights Commission Etta Rosales who dubbed Duterte’s classic expletives as “unethical”. Before we know it Etta might ask the National Bureau of Investigation to snoop on the mayor.

As I said with the billions worth of racket derived from the Customs ports Digong will not only be confronted with gangs who are armed to the teeth but pseudo crusaders who bear the crucifix, video cameras and some mighty pens. These coteries are all in the payroll of the Phantom named David Tan. There are too many David Tans at the Customs Ports. Like in the old Django movies I can only say to Digong: “Kill them all and come back alone”… and intact.

Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on January 14, 2014.

Opinion

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