MANILA - Malacañang on Tuesday clarified that soldiers will not be given appointments or designations at the Bureau of Customs, after critics said that a military “takeover” at the bureau would violate the Constitution.
President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said he wants the military to “take over” Customs, days after he appointed Rey Leonardo Guerrero, the country’s former military chief, to the corruption-ridden agency.
Duterte recently removed Isidro Lapeña as Customs chief who was criticized over the multi-billion shabu shipment that allegedly slipped past the country’s ports. He also announced that all Customs officials and personnel will be on “floating status.”
In a Palace news conference, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo, however, said “the President is not appointing or designating any member of the armed forces.”
“These people will be there first to make their presence felt and hopefully intimidate those corrupt people there,” he added.
Panelo explained that soldiers, in a sense, will be “guarding” BOC personnel, and learn the processes at the bureau even though they will not formally assume the role of the Customs personnel.
Asked whether such a “takeover” will happen soon, Panelo said, “Sa ngayon hindi (For now, no). But if it comes to a point that it is needed, the Constitution allows it.”
Critics said the military “takeover” at Customs would violate a Constitutional provision barring the appointment of a member of the armed forces to a civilian position in the government.
But Panelo stressed that this provision should not take precedence to the Constitutional provision which states that the “prime duty of the Government is to serve and protect the people.”
“You cannot make this President hostage to a particular provision without relating to previous provisions that grant him authority as well as obligation and duty to serve and protect this nation,” Panelo said.
Panelo argued that the situation at the Customs is akin to “lawlessness” which must be addressed by the President at all costs.
“The Constitution says when there is lawless violence, the President can call out the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” he said.
“The state of lawless violence would refer to what is happening in BOC. There is a state of lawlessness there. If you can bring in hundreds of kilos of drugs, there must be some grave wrong in that area and there is a state of lawlessness there.”
Panelo also explained that the soldiers who might be sent to the Customs will still have to answer to AFP Chief of Staff Carlito Galvez Jr., not Guerrero.