P-Noy confirms BOC chief on the way out

August 31, 2011

P-Noy confirms BOC chief on the way out 

MANILA, Philippines - President Aquino confirmed yesterday that Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez is on his way out. Aquino said he was not satisfied with Alvarez’s performance but refused to name his replacement until after the successor had made up his mind.

Hindi nga ako masaya (I’m not really happy),” Aquino said in an interview over Radio Mindanao Network, referring to Alvarez’s performance.

Sought for comment, Alvarez said he would not take it against the President if and when he decides to take him off the job.

The President had wanted to replace Alvarez earlier but Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima had reportedly been defending the Customs chief.

The Chief Executive begged off from making public the incoming head of the Bureau of Customs, amid persistent reports it will be former Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, a defeated senatorial candidate of the Liberal Party in the May 2010 presidential elections.

Four separate reliable sources have confirmed it would

indeed be the son of former senator and now Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon, who served as AFP chief of staff during the time of Aquino’s mother, the late former president Corazon Aquino, in the late 80s.

A source revealed the younger Biazon and Aquino had discussed the BOC post two weekends ago while two others relayed that the ex-congressman confirmed the meeting and incoming appointment. The last source disclosed that Biazon’s papers are just awaiting Aquino’s signature.

I promised the person who will replace Commissioner Alvarez that I will give him time to think. I will not identify the person yet, give me a chance to fulfill my promise,” the President said in Filipino.

The person accepted the post. I hope he doesn’t change his mind,” the President said.

When asked if the incoming commissioner is a politician or from the private sector, he replied: “I think he is not somebody new to you.”

Meanwhile, another source revealed that apart from Biazon, former renegade Col. Danny Lim – who also lost in the May 2010 polls in the LP senatorial ticket – will be designated as deputy Customs commissioner.

No regrets

Alvarez, for his part, said he has no regrets spending 14 months in government and when the time comes that he will be replaced, he will leave the agency with his integrity intact.

That is okay. I cannot satisfy everybody. I did my best and if my best was not good enough then I cannot do anything about it. When the time comes (that a new BOC commissioner) has been appointed, I will not hold a grudge against the President because that is his call,” he said.

I serve at the pleasure of the President and I would do the task assigned to me to the best of my ability, until my replacement is available. Once my replacement is here, I would turnover (the bureau) in a very professional (manner),” he added.

He recalled that when he assumed the post, there were those who thought that since he came from the Lina Group of Companies he would favor Bert Lina.

But in my 14 months with the BOC, they could not say anything (against me) because I have never made a decision that favored the Lina Group of Companies, that one I can be proud of. I have no regrets working in the bureau. My background is audit and I am happy because I was challenged (with my work here) and we were able to discover many anomalies such as the fake official receipts, fake certificates of origin and the discovery of the missing vehicles in Subic which we are still pursuing.”

He believes that calls for his resignation might intensify if he would pursue running after those responsible for the 1,866 missing vehicles.

The cause

Alvarez also earned the ire of several members of the House of Representatives due to the reported missing container vans in the port of Manila, where the government allegedly lost some P240 million in potential revenues recently.

But the BOC chief refused to step down because of this issue, describing calls for his removal from office as “unjust and undeserved.”

Some people had lost sight of the fact that it was I who uncovered the missing container scam and that I had ordered the concerned officials of the BOC to explain the discrepancy in the transshipment data long before the start of the congressional inquiry on this matter,” Alvarez said earlier.

Yesterday, Alvarez said he could only hope his successor would continue his advocacies, especially the issue of the transshipment of 1,910 container vans that went missing.

One of the legacies that I would leave behind is that this modus operandi I have uncovered, I have investigated and I filed (charges against the) guilty parties so this modus operandi would not be repeated,” he said.

I just hope that whoever would replace me, I hope that he or she would pursue this case and find out who are responsible in these illegal activities,” he said.

Once he leaves the BOC, Alvarez said he plans to take a well-deserved rest and catch up on quality time with his family. He said he could also return to work in the private sector.

During his stay at the BOC, five names have been floated as his possible replacement including Biazon, Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) chief Gaudencio Pangilinan, former Cagayan Rep. Manuel Mamba, former Camarines Norte Rep. Liwayway Vinzons Chato, and Elizabeth Lee, former president of the Chamber of Auto Manufacturers of the Philippines (CAMPI).

Alvarez’s lawyer

No less than President Aquino himself had expressed his displeasure at how things are going at the Customs, where smuggling apparently goes unabated, and told Palace reporters earlier that Purisima had wanted to keep Alvarez.

Purisima is Alvarez’s boss, since the BOC is under the Department of Finance.

In June, Aquino hinted at a revamp in Customs.

You will get that (revamp news) not that soon, but very soon, once we finish it. That is something that is a perpetual topic between the secretary of finance (Purisima) and myself,” he said.

The President was asked to expound on his thoughts about Alvarez, following a previous remark he made in Davao City that he is not satisfied with his agency’s performance, in light of smuggling activities in Mindanao, like the one involving Fil-Am Lynard Allan Bigcas.

Saintly but not innocent

When asked if Alvarez is on his way out, the President replied: “That’s why I said there would be evaluation, then we will vet. That function is one of the hardest positions to fill. You need somebody who is knowledgeable about the system but untainted.”

You’d want to get somebody who is saintly but he’s not innocent,” he pointed out, at the same time acknowledging the country’s archipelagic setup, like the “problem of (guarding) 7,100 islands and 36,000 nautical miles of coastline.”

But the peeved President could not hide his displeasure.

I don’t want to get into an argument with the commissioner. I’ll give you an example, a raid was conducted on the 168 (mall in Divisoria). But who conducted the raid? BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue).”

Why did it take the BIR to do the investigation? And not everything was there. What they only did was to check if those were registered. Were these reported properly? And what about the sourcing of all the items? And then there are a lot of others,” Aquino said.

There are allegations about 168. There are a lot of other issues, but this is the subject of an ongoing evaluation and investigation. If I start telling you then it makes the job of investigating and evaluating that much harder,” he said.

Old scam

But Alvarez was quick to point out yesterday that the modus operandi on the thousands of missing container vans, while en route to Batangas from Manila, has allegedly been existing even during the previous administration.

In a separate statement, Alvarez said that apart from the discovery of the 1,910 container vans that went missing from January to May this year, they have also unearthed that 3,656 container vans could not be accounted for from January to December of 2010.

The first six months of year 2010 was still under the administration of former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

President Aquino only took over the government on June 30 of last year.

Preliminary data gathered by the special audit team organized by Alvarez indicated that 3,844 containers were granted transshipment permits from January to December last year, broken down into 3,054 containers between January and early-July and another 790 containers between November and December.

However, the consignees reportedly filed consumption entries for only 188 containers that happened in November and December 2010 for which they paid only P3.7 million in duties and taxes.

In effect, 3,656 containers could not be accounted for along with hundreds of millions of pesos in duties and taxes,” said Alvarez.

He said that “the discovery of this scam which dates back during the time of the previous administration is the tipping point of our campaign against smuggling.”

Probe to continue

Senior administration and opposition lawmakers lauded Malacannang for booting out Alvarez, but the House of Representatives would continue its inquiry into the reported massive smuggling activities involving BOC officials.

Senior Deputy Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said Alvarez’s replacement should be a reminder to government officials that they are accountable not only to the President but also to the people.

Fariñas also chairs the House subcommittee on tariff and customs that is investigating anomalies in the BOC, including its reported failure to collect some P1.6 billion in taxes from a major oil firm in a case of technical smuggling.

Deputy Minority Leader and Zambales Rep. Milagros Magsaysay said she is thanking President Aquino for “listening to us and he finally saw why lawmakers want Alvarez removed.”

She said “stealing and smuggling” is rife in the BOC and Alvarez was not able to control it.

The BOC also incurred a P22-billion revenue shortfall because of the smuggling activities the agency failed to stop, she said, adding: “There’s a breakdown in leadership in the BOC that’s why these things happened in the first place.”

Swimming with the tide

BOC employees, for their part, said they will again swim with the tide in the highly politicized agency as Malacañang yesterday announced that their current boss will soon be replaced.

The more than 4,000 Customs employees said that while they do not necessarily like to have a new commissioner in such a short span of time, they have become used to how the game has been working for years now.

Many lament the removal of Alvarez from the post while others said they are willing to work with a new commissioner.

Others also praised Alvarez for his political will to implement reforms, his skills in audit and expertise in handling logistics, but some also believe that he did not do his best in wiping out smuggling in the country.

Alvarez, who was appointed in July last year, had been widely criticized by different sectors for the reforms he instituted.

ˆmmediately upon taking office, Alvarez issued a stern warning against smugglers, name-droppers and influence peddlers. He also stepped up the fight against the use of fake tariff-free forms and led the administration’s fight against smuggling.

He has filed smuggling charges with total claims of P53 billion since taking over the BOC.

He also filed cases against big oil firms, including Phoenix Petroleum and Pilipinas Shell, but the straw that broke the camel’s back – the case which prompted lawmakers to call for his ouster – was the case of the missing containers.

Prior to his appointment as BOC chief in July last year, Alvarez was head of Air21, the local franchisee of US-based Federal Express. He also headed the Philippine Basketball Association and served as president of BT Titans, Inc. owner of Perf Restaurants, Inc. and master franchisee of Burger King in the Philippines.

He also served as senior auditor at SGV and Co.

Alvarez has a Bachelor Science in Commerce degree, Major in Accounting from the Far Eastern University.

He is the first Customs chief under the Aquino administration and by Customs’ standards, his term is slightly longer than other commissioners who headed the agency the past 20 years.


By Delon Porcalla With Paolo Romero, Evelyn Macairan, Iris Gonzale, Philippine Star