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Overhaul of the Philippine Bureau of Customs underway

Overhaul of the Philippine Bureau of Customs underway

Philippine President Aquino and Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon

MANILA, Philippines – Faced with unabated smuggling and corruption issues in the Bureau of Customs (BOC), President Aquino is set to implement an overhaul of the agency after the elections.

Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon said the President is giving priority in the second half of his term to sweeping reforms in the BOC, which surveys indicate is perceived to be one of the most corrupt government agencies.

Biazon said Aquino has indicated support for the filing in the next Congress of the Customs Modernization Bill, which will amend the Tariff and Customs Code and pave the way for BOC reforms.

These include the full automation of Customs clearance processes, privatization of some of its functions and possibly give the bureau fiscal independence by allowing it to use a portion of its collections.

“We are preparing for a big push for legislative reforms in Customs. We will seek the help of Congress on that. We will refile the Customs Modernization bill because we believe that this is a key factor in the push for reforms within the bureau,” said Biazon.

Declining to give specifics so as not to preempt the President, the Customs chief nevertheless said President Aquino is supportive of the proposed changes in the bureau.

“The President has committed to put Customs reform as a priority agenda in the second half of his term,” he said. “That includes the passage of the new law to update the Customs law.”

Biazon said that the BOC had completed in February its strategic action plan for reforms, which includes the full automation of customs clearance processes to minimize face-to-face transactions between traders and Customs officers in the effort to reduce corruption.

“We want to be able to reduce it to as minimal human intervention as possible,” said Biazon.

The BOC also wants to follow the structure of Customs in Peru which is allowed to conduct a self-reorganization to get rid of corrupt and unscrupulous officials and employees.

He noted that the Peruvian government passed a law to enable reforms in its Customs bureau.

The BOC also wants to be able to sub-contract to the private sector some of its functions, such as the auction of seized goods, similar to what is done in the United States.

“It’s something that we can let go of so we can focus on more urgent matters,” said Biazon. “Real Customs reform need legislation.”

Customs also wants to be able to use a part of its collections to finance its automation program and other initiatives so that it would be immune to political pressures, especially in the provinces.

“We want to be able to isolate Customs from political influence so we want to be able to use part of our collections so that we would not have to go to Congress every year,” said Biazon.

The BOC is currently faced with the rampant smuggling of petroleum, agriculture products and counterfeit goods.

Biazon said that of the goods that enter the country through the backdoor, smuggled oil is still valued highest but agriculture products and counterfeit goods have the most impact on the domestic economy.

He said that the BOC seized last month 14 20-foot containers of poultry products, consisting mostly of peking duck and pigeon from China – which was misdeclared.

The seized poultry was left to achieve initial decomposition to prevent diversion to the domestic market, then rendered and buried in the North Harbor landfill.

The illegal shipment was estimated to be valued at P14 million. The BOC is still profiling the traders involved with the shipment.

Farmers groups are also complaining that rice from Thailand and Vietnam also continues to enter the country through ports in Cebu, Davao, and Cagayan de Oro. These shipments supposedly make their way into major rice-producing provinces in Luzon through Manila.

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