Smuggling mafia

Everyone is entitled to the benefit of the doubt and will get his day in court. In keeping with a long-running national tradition of believing the worst and jumping to conclusions, however, and because of the reputation of the agency involved, people tended to believe all or at least some portions of the speech delivered by Sen. Panfilo Lacson yesterday, naming the Bureau of Customs officials allegedly engaged in corruption.

The speech, protected by parliamentary privilege, would have been shorter if Lacson had named the BOC officials who are not tainted by corruption. Lacson’s exposé bolstered President Duterte’s earlier lament that the BOC is “rotten to the core.” Crooks at Customs, Lacson said, collected “tara” or grease money at practically every step of shipment processing, with top officials allegedly receiving regular payoffs.

In detailing the “labyrinth and lexicon of the criminals” in the BOC, Lacson also claimed that Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon received P100 million as pasalubong or welcome gift upon assuming the top BOC post. Faeldon, whose resignation from the bureau has been accepted by President Duterte, denied the accusation.

If even half of Lacson’s revelations about the “smuggling mafia” proved accurate, the BOC may have to be nuked to be rid of corrupt officials and personnel. In previous years, there have been stories of even low-ranking BOC employees driving SUVs.

Apart from trying to plug opportunities for corruption, the government should rethink the functions of the BOC. Tariff barriers are going down in a globalized economy and it’s possible to drastically minimize the exercise of personal discretion by BOC personnel in assessing shipped items. Customs personnel can be subjected to random lifestyle checks, with revenue employees tapped for unearthing ill-gotten assets.

The culture of corruption in the BOC has persisted because Customs crooks have seen that they can get away with their crime, especially if they have influential protectors. The only way to stop impunity, short of subjecting the most notorious to Oplan Double Barrel or a “One Time Big Time” sweep, is to ensure that BOC crooks get punished, and quickly.

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