Duterte orders military takeover of Customs
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)
President Rodrigo Duterte.