MANILA – It is “business as usual” for corrupt Customs officials, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said Wednesday, as he lamented the continued entry of illegal drugs into the Philippines.
Lacson said almost two years after his exposé on the “tara” (grease money) system at the Bureau of Customs (BOC), the illegal practice still persists.
“Despite my exposé on the massive corruption inside the Bureau of Customs, much to my dismay, I was informed just recently that the tara system has not been, by any chance, suppressed,” Lacson said in a privilege speech.
Citing his “sources,” Lacson said for the Office of the Commissioner (OCom), an average of P5,000 grease money was being distributed for every container “plus 10 percent of the collections of each section/office directly under the OCom.”
Lacson, however, maintained that Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero “has remained untainted by corruption, at least as of this date and as far as this representation is concerned.”
Guerrero, a former military chief, was tapped to head the BOC in October last year after his predecessor faced controversy over a drug shipment.
Still, he cited Guerrero's "failure" to impose the same discipline within the BOC's ranks.
“But while he has reportedly managed to maintain his integrity intact, his leadership is challenged by his apparent failure to exact the same level of honesty and integrity from his subordinates, which [is what] true and real leadership is all about,” Lacson said.
“Kung kani-kanino napupunta ang nasabing mga ‘tara’ (other people are getting the said grease money) for his office or the Office of the Commissioner, I will leave it to Gen. Guerrero to investigate and find out.”
Meanwhile, the Intelligence Group supposedly receives P3,000 per container, P3,000 for the Risk Management Office, P2,000 to P3,000 for the Import and Assessment Service, and P1,000 to P2,000 for the Enforcement Group, Lacson said.
Lacson also blasted the appointment of relieved Manila International Container Port district collector Vener Baquiran as Customs Deputy Commissioner.
The senator earlier identified Baquiran as one of many Customs officials who receive grease money. Baquiran was also implicated in a multibillion-peso shabu shipment in 2018.
“How can the Bureau thoroughly and sincerely address the country's drug problem if instead of punishing the corrupt or incompetent, or both, this administration is even rewarding these people with other positions in government?” Lacson said.
“Sadly, what they cannot completely throw away, they tend to recycle. This time, at the expense of BOC's credibility and to the detriment of the public.”
Eliminating the drug scourge has been the top priority of President Rodrigo Duterte, but the chief executive has lamented that unscrupulous government officials and personnel have been making the job even harder.
The Customs bureau has undergone several leadership changes, but Lacson said this has failed to solve its corruption problem.