P4.2-B budget to double Customs staff is a waste; pre-shipment inspection abroad better – Atienza

August 28, 2017 - 6:19 PM
Buhay party-list Rep. Lito Atienza speaks at a forum in this InterAksyon file photo.

MANILA – Instead of spending billions to hire personnel, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) should put in place a pre-shipment inspection abroad of all imports bound for the Philippines, a minority lawmaker said.

Buhay party-list Representative Lito Atienza called on Congress to reject the extra P4.2-billion annual funding requested by the BOC to fill up more than 3,000 vacant positions, saying this was unnecessary.

He instead pushed for the passage of a new law requiring the pre-shipment inspection.

“There’s no point in wasting billions of pesos to double the number of Customs staff,” he said. “Nobody can fix the rampant corruption and gross inadequacy at the BOC, not even Isidro Lapeña,” Atienza said, referring to the outgoing director of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency who will take his oath on Tuesday as the new BOC commissioner.

Lapeña replaced former Marine officer Nicanor Faeldon, who resigned last week as parallel hearings were being held in the House and the Senate on corruption at Customs, including the smuggling of P6 billion worth of shabu that got past BOC’s green lane.

Atienza said there are “rotten” officials and employees at the BOC who allow the illegal shipments, depriving the government of the much-needed revenues through import duties and taxes.

“They want the BOC to stay inefficient because they thrive on inefficiency – because corruption thrives on inefficiency. The day the bureau becomes truly effective at its job is also the day corrupt examiners and agents lose their lucrative rackets,” he said.

Only viable option

In Atienza’s view, the only viable intervention left is for Congress to require the prior screening overseas of all shipments bound for the Philippines.

“Once we have pre-shipment inspection, the BOC will actually need fewer staff, because the bureau will be performing less work,” he added.

In the proposed P3.767-trillion General Appropriations Act for 2018, the BOC is seeking an annual budget of P3.5 billion. However, in the President’s Budget Message to Congress, it was said that, “In addition to the BOC’s budget, we have tucked in an additional P4.2 billion under the FY 2018 Miscellaneous Personnel Benefits Fund (MPBF).”

Per the budget message, the fund “will finance the BOC restructuring, to fill up its more than 3,000 vacant positions.”

At present, only 3,031 of the bureau’s 6,264 authorized positions have been filled up.

“As long as we have systemic corruption at the BOC, officials and staff there will continue to find ways to circumvent reforms,” Atienza said.

He cited as an example the P6.4-billion worth of shabu from China that was diverted to the BOC’s express “green lane” at the Port of Manila to avoid inspection and detection.

House bill on compulsory pre-shipment check

Atienza earlier filed House Bill No. 6220, which calls for the compulsory pre-shipment inspection or advance clearance of all foreign cargo headed for the Philippines.

Under the bill, the exact nature of all imports, to include their quality, quantity and prices, would have to be checked and verified at the country of origin.

Atienza said pre-shipment inspection would enable the BOC to collect the accurate import duties and taxes and surpass income targets.

“The BOC has been missing targets due to unbridled smuggling and connivance in the undervaluation of imports and underpayment of duties and taxes,” he said.

In 2016, the BOC collected only P398.41 billion, which was P58.04-billion short of its P456.45-billion target.

From January to July this year, the BOC collected only P246.98 billion, or P10.16-billion short of its P257.14-billion target.

Atienza also said pre-shipment inspection would benefit legitimate importers, adding “They will avoid costly product defects and get shipments faster without having to spend for kickbacks.”