MANILA - No one ever asked him to raise funds for anyone, resigned Bureau of Customs (BOC) commissioner John Sevilla stressed yesterday as he denied claims by the opposition that he was pressured to quit by the Liberal Party for his refusal to contribute P3 billion to the ruling party’s campaign kitty.
“No one has every asked me to raise money for anyone, never,” Sevilla said.
He was reacting to allegations made last Friday by United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) interim president and Navotas City Rep. Tobias Tiangco that pressure from the LP made him decide to quit the top BOC post.
Sevilla announced his resignation last Thursday, citing helplessness against influence peddlers and admitting his failure to totally clean the BOC.
On the same day, Malacañang announced the appointment of Alberto Lina as Sevilla’s replacement. Lina, founder and owner of several firms including Air21, had a brief stint as BOC commissioner in 2005.
A source said Sevilla would not have resigned had he not been told to do so by higher-ups. The source also said President Aquino signed Lina’s appointment papers days before Sevilla’s resignation.
Other officials are reportedly also on the way out. Asked last Thursday if others would follow his footsteps and resign, Sevilla replied: “Ask them. But I am hoping they would stay.”
Meanwhile, Senate President Franklin Drilon said Lina has to address possible conflicts of interest in his new position.
While he welcomed the appointment of Lina, Drilon said he could not help but think of the former’s business interests that might later affect the latter’s judgment as head of the bureau.
In an interview with radio dwIZ, Drilon said he expects Lina to seriously address the issues being raised against him regarding his businesses.
Asked if it would mean having Lina divest his interest in his firms, particularly Air21, Drilon said Lina presumably already knows what to do, having served in the same position before.
Drilon earlier urged Sevilla to identify the individuals who had approached him for favors when the latter was Customs chief.
“Sonny Sevilla should reveal the identities of the persons he was referring to. Sonny Sevilla was a very good Customs Commissioner. I have known him for 10 years already and I have known him to be an honest bureaucrat,” Drilon said.
He added he was supportive of the call of Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III for an investigation into the claims made by Sevilla.
He also lashed out at Tiangco for accusing the LP of plotting the removal of Sevilla as BOC chief.
“I will not waste my time with these malicious lies. These are the kind of things that come out when the election period approaches,” Drilon said.
Under the Public Code of Conduct for public servants, officials have 30 days from assumption of office to resign from private businesses and 60 days to divest themselves of shares and interests in case a conflict of interest arises.
Aside from Air21, Lina owns several other companies including Cargohaus, eKonek, Shopinas.com, Integrated Waste Management, DOS 1, U-Freight, Waste and Resource Management, Linaheim Properties, Solarlina, LGC Logistics, Credit Solutions & Business Alliances Inc., Lina Farms, GO 21, Ube Media, 2100 Customs Brokers Inc, U-Ocen, and Linaheim Corporate Travel and Tours.
“I admire his sacrifice; already having made something of himself as a self made man at this stage of his life, a successful Filipino entrepreneur is coming back home to serve in government,” Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima earlier said of Lina.
“If we want to make irreversible reforms, we are counting on an expert to make these systemic changes last,” Purisima said.
Lina’s appointment drew concerns from some quarters, especially because of his closeness with Purisima.
“Do you really think he will divest himself from everything when his term is just for a short while. The question we should ask is why did the government let go of someone who was doing a good job,” an industry stakeholder said. “Purisima himself commended Sevilla for turning BOC into a credible organization in just a short span of time. Why did they not support Sevilla who I think was serious in going after smugglers, rooting out corrupt officers and boosting tariff collections?”— with Marvin Sy, Zinnia dela Peña, Eva Visperas
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