Duterte or­ders mil­i­tary takeover of Cus­toms

Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro - - Nation -

PRES­I­DENT Rodrigo Duterte or­dered the Armed Forces of the Philip­pines (AFP) to temporarily take over the Bureau of Cus­toms (BOC) amid a scan­dal af­ter two huge ship­ments of il­le­gal drugs slipped past the agency through the port of Manila.

But there is no pres­i­den­tial doc­u­ment yet that will pro­vide guide­lines for the de­ploy­ment of mil­i­tary per­son­nel to the agency.

Duterte made the di­rec­tive Sun­day, Oc­to­ber 28, just three days af­ter he re­placed for­mer Cus­toms chief Isidro Lapeña with for­mer mil­i­tary chief Rey Leonardo Guer­rero.

He said in a speech in Davao City Sun­day that he was forced to take a dras­tic move amid the “dirty games” be­ing played at the BOC.

Duterte cited “a state of law­less­ness” that he de­clared fol­low­ing a deadly 2016 bomb­ing to jus­tify putting the mil­i­tary in con­trol of the cus­toms bureau.

Un­der a tem­po­rary setup, mil­i­tary per­son­nel would be tasked to in­spect and clear con­tainer vans in Manila and other Philip­pine ports. Some will be trained to op­er­ate X-ray machines used in screen­ing car­gos.

Duterte also said Sun­day that the BOC per­son­nel will be put on a “float­ing sta­tus” and re­quired to con­duct their work in a gym­na­sium in the pres­i­den­tial palace com­plex.

“Al­most all of them there have been, in one way or the other, been charged of cor­rup­tion. La­hat sila may kaso (All of them have cases). And yet, we can­not just move on be­cause you want to be law­fully cor­rect. So da­han-da­han lang tayo (We have to take it slowly),” he said.

He asked Guer­rero to de­ploy some sol­diers with tech­ni­cal ex­per­tise to the Cus­toms bureau.

“They (Cus­toms per­son­nel) will be re­placed, all of them, by mil­i­tary men. It will be a takeover of the Armed Forces in the mat­ter of op­er­at­ing in the mean­time, while we are sort­ing out how to ef­fec­tively meet the chal­lenges of cor­rup­tion in this coun­try,” he said.

“There was re­ally a con­tin­u­ous play of cor­rup­tion in the lower ech­e­lons of the Cus­toms bureau. You put any other pati ako (even me), and even if I will be there at the helm of the Bureau of Cus­toms, pa­palusu­tan, lu­sot talaga ‘yan (smug­gled prod­ucts will re­ally slip past). They will un­der­cut you be­cause of money),” he added.

The BOC, which col­lects im­port du­ties and taxes for the Depart­ment of Fi­nance, has more than 3,000 of­fi­cials, cus­toms po­lice and em­ploy­ees na­tion­wide.

Its for­mer chief, Lapeña, was re­moved af­ter he was heav­ily crit­i­cized over the multi­bil­lion-peso worth of smug­gled shabu that slipped past the coun­try’s ports.

Lapeña’s pre­de­ces­sor, Ni­canor Fael­don, was also re­as­signed as the new direc­tor of the Bureau of Cor­rec­tions, fol­low­ing the il­le­gal en­try of P6.4 bil­lion worth of shabu that was smug­gled in May 2017. Lapeña and Fael­don are also for­mer uni­formed men who are cur­rently oc­cu­py­ing civil­ian posts in

the Duterte ad­min­is­tra­tion. Duterte de­fended Lapeña and Fael­don, main­tain­ing that the lower-rank­ing of­fi­cials of the BOC are the ones to be blamed over the con­tin­u­ing ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in the bureau.

Lapena and Fael­don also both de­nied any in­volve­ment in the drug ship­ments but pledged to co­op­er­ate in con­gres­sional in­quiries.

To rid the BOC of il­licit ac­tiv­i­ties, Duterte said the Cus­tom’s po­lice would also be re­lieved from post.

But Pres­i­den­tial Spokesper­son Sal­vador Panelo told Palace re­porters on Mon­day, Oc­to­ber 29, that “the des­ig­na­tion of the per­son­nel from the AFP is only tem­po­rary.”

Panelo’s re­marks came af­ter Duterte’s order was met with le­gal chal­lenges.

Sec­tion 3, Ar­ti­cle 2 of the 1987 Con­sti­tu­tion states that “civil­ian author­ity is, at all times, supreme over the mil­i­tary.”

Sec­tion 5(4), Ar­ti­cle 16 of the Con­sti­tu­tion fur­ther pro­vides that “no mem­ber of the armed forces in the ac­tive ser­vice shall, at any time, be ap­pointed or des­ig­nated in any ca­pac­ity to a civil­ian po­si­tion in the gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing gov­ern­ment-owned or -con­trolled cor­po­ra­tions or any sub­sidiaries.”

Panelo jus­ti­fied Duterte’s lat­est move, not­ing that the Pres­i­dent is vested by the Con­sti­tu­tion with the author­ity to give or­ders to the mil­i­tary when he “deems it fit.”

He stressed that Duterte, as the coun­try’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, needs to take ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tions if any vi­o­la­tion is com­mit­ted by any of­fices like the Cus­toms bureau, which is con­sid­ered a “cor­rupt-rid­den” agency.

“The Con­sti­tu­tion pro­vides that the Pres­i­dent is the head of gov­ern­ment, the head of state, and the com­man­der-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the Philip­pines. Now, the Con­sti­tu­tion also pro­vides that he has con­trol over all ex­ec­u­tive of­fices, and BOC is one of them,” Panelo said.

“Now, with re­spect to be­ing com­man­der-in-chief, has is au­tho­rized, un­der the law, to di­rect the move­ments of the mem­bers of the Armed Forces of the Philip­pines, and in any man­ner that he deems it fit,” he added.

Un­der Sec­tion 18, Ar­ti­cle 7 of the Con­sti­tu­tion, the Pres­i­dent, “when­ever it be­comes nec­es­sary, he may call out such armed forces to pre­vent or sup­press law­less vi­o­lence, in­va­sion or re­bel­lion.”

Panelo said the Pres­i­dent is ex­pected to re­lease “shortly” a pres­i­den­tial doc­u­ment that will pro­vide guide­lines for the mil­i­tary de­ploy­ment.

He as­sured that for now, the op­er­a­tions at the Cus­toms bureau would be unim­peded.

“There is no lull or stop­page of the ser­vice provided by the BOC. There will be a con­ti­nu­ity of ser­vices ren­dered by them,” Panelo said.

“There will be con­ti­nu­ity in the sense that these peo­ple (re­lieved BOC per­son­nel) will come in to as­sist them first, and then even­tu­ally, they (mil­i­tary per­son­nel) will be tak­ing over the re­spec­tive po­si­tions that these peo­ple have right now,” he added.

Panelo said Duterte was also con­fi­dent that Guer­rero, as the Cus­toms chief, would pick AFP per­son­nel with “ex­per­tise.”

“The Pres­i­dent will give the new head all the lee­way in de­cid­ing how he would en­list mem­bers of the AFP to help him,” he said.

“Cer­tainly, he would be choosing peo­ple with ex­per­tise, and as we all know, the mem­bers of the armed forces are not limited to mil­i­tary work. There are a lot of them who have taken grad­u­ate schools, schol­ar­ships with re­spect to the tech­ni­cal know-how. And cer­tainly, they will also be un­der­go­ing train­ing to be com­pe­tent in the field that they would be as­signed to,” he added.

Asked as to when the mil­i­tary takeover of BOC will end, Panelo said, “un­til the Pres­i­dent is sat­is­fied that ev­ery­thing is in order at that bureau.” (With AP/ SunStar Philip­pines)

(AP FILE)

Pres­i­dent Rodrigo Duterte.

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