Tradition in Customs
THE discovery that some P6.4 billion worth of shabu from China entered the country right under some government officials’noses again reminds us that two of the country’s biggest challenges are intertwined. One is the rampant distribution of illegal drugs. The other is corruption in the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
Both are old problems that have also been linked to the raising of funds for the country’s costly elections. What new steps does this administration intend to take, in order to clean up the BOC?
Assessing the BOC simply by looking at increases in its collections isn’t enough. A paper for the Asian Institute of Management Policy Center has pointed out that customs revenues can rise even when leaks continue. One way to fix this is to examine trade statistics more closely: for instance, comparing import declarations with what our trade partners reported as their exports to us. Researchers Ronald Mendoza, Jess Lorenzo, and Fr. Albert Alejo, who made this recommendation and wrote about it for Rappler in September 2014, have estimated that up to 40 centavos of every peso of tax revenue is drained by corruption in the customs bureau.
Whenever the bureau runs into allegations of corruption, several administrations have typically responded by naming a new commissioner and moving some personnel around. Sen. Panfilo Lacson and outgoing Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, who have traded accusations of corruption as part of the Senate’s inquiry on the shabu shipment, have provided plenty of names and other information for government investigators to examine.
Another proposal the Duterte administration can consider is the transfer of audit functions on shipments from the customs bureau to another unit of the finance department. Last May 30, 2016, then President Benigno Aquino III signed Republic Act 10863, the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act. This was supposed to deter smuggling by raising penalties for it and by introducing more electronic processing in customs procedures.
Less than two months later, Rep. Rufino Biazon of Muntinlupa, a former customs commissioner, filed a bill that sought to allow the use of one percent of the BOC’s annual collections for better equipment and technology. If the bureau’s problems, like corruption, persist, it’s not for lack of ideas to fix them. So what is missing?