Full Palace backing needed to stop smuggling – Enrile
Manila, Philippines – Talking from experience, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile yesterday said that the multi-billion-peso smuggling operation in the Philippine archipelago could not be stopped without the full backing of Malacañang.
Enrile, customs commissioner during the early days of the Marcos administration, said he had the full backing of the Philippine President at that time “and I succeeded somehow during my time.’’
The former Senate President made this and other opinions known during yesterday’s public hearing by the Senate ways and means committee chaired by Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara on five bills authored by their colleagues seeking to modernize or make the customs bureau more effective in fighting the multi-headed smuggling problem.
“I am sure the President is interested (in stopping smuggling). But the entire government must exert efforts, not just one agency (Bureau of Customs),’’ Enrile said, adding that other government agencies such as the Philippine Coast Guard, the Navy and the Philippine National Police (PNP) need to cooperate in a broad anti-smuggling effort.
“I am sure the President is backing the problem (of the customs bureau), but what are their arms? Their weapons? Their instruments to arrest it (smuggling)? What are the law enforcement mechanisms?” Enrile replied to a Manila Bulletin query on the smuggling issue after attending the Angara committee hearing.
Asked about his opinion on the five bills being heard by the Angara committee, Enrile, a former Defense Minister during the Marcos martial law period, said the laws are only good if they are enforced properly.
Customs Deputy Commissioner Agaton Uvera assured Enrile that the new Customs leadership has the full support and backing of President Benigno S. Aquino III in fighting smuggling.
Newly designated BOC Commissioner John Philip Sevilla asked Congress to support the full introduction of information technology (IT) in the customs procedures and operations with a very minimum human intervention to make the bureau’s operations efficient.
He said his vision for the customs bureau is that the processing of import and customs operations “should be as close to an assembly line as possible.’’
To achieve that end, the customs bureau needs to maximize the use of IT as it also needs to review every single instance of exemptions and special treatments given (by government agencies) to certain categories of imports and certain categories of importers,’’ he said.
“The use of IT allows the customs bureau to (introduce) electronic filing of papers …not only of entries but also supporting documents …to minimize human intervention and human contact to the absolute minimum possible. The (customs) offices have stacks of papers (documents) to make our offices fire hazards. We are talking of 2,000 transactions per day and finding them is time consuming,’’ he added.
The full electronic documentation means electronic recognition of signatures and authorizations from various government agencies, he explained.
Sevilla also asked Congress to allow the customs bureau to impose uniform requirements from all government agencies in the issuance of import permits and other import product certifications.
The audit of the customs bureau should also be done by external auditors, he added.
Because of the wide latitude given to customs personnel in deciding whether a shipment is regular or not, Angara supported the full computerization at the customs bureau to avoid behind the scenes transactions between customs officials or personnel and importers.
Queried whether the customs-related bills pending in Congress, once enacted into laws, could help stamp out smuggling, Angara said full computerization is a good step forward.
Angara, however, admitted that he and his colleagues in Congress have no illusion about the smuggling problem “because we are just a policy-making body.’’
He agreed with Enrile that laws require their full implementation by the Executive branch.
“Gusto lang natin na may sandata sila at sila ang nakikipalglaban araw-araw laban sa korupsyon,’’ he said. (We want to give the customs bureau the weapons they need to deal with corruption daily.)
Although Congress may give all the weapons to customs personnel, Angara said what is important is for the President to appoint honest men to the bureau.
“I think, so far, we like what we’ve seen in the brief tenure of Commissioner Sevilla,’’ he stressed.