Drilon wants to scrap history in the name of vanity

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon always achieves things with the use of political muscle and bullying. Anybody who steps in his way gets a taste of his fury.

That was what former Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon experienced three years ago when he complained that Drilon had forced him to sign an illegal agreement for a restoration project for the Iloilo Customs House.

Drilon got Faeldon to agree that the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) to do a structural and aesthetic make-over of the historical building and turn it into a museum.

“There’s nothing illegal about it,” Drilon asserted.

Iloilo Customs House in 1917

Under the plan, the ground floor of the Iloilo Customs House would be turned into a maritime museum. The Iloilo Customs would occupy just the second floor. The Philippine Postal Service also occupies a portion of the ground floor.

Drilon gave assurances the Bureau of Customs personnel would not be ejected from the building.

But the liar in Drilon is once again revealed.

Later this month, on April 21, the Bureau of Customs will be moving out of the building and transfer to rented office space 3 kilomters from the port area. Naturally, there is grumbling among the Customs officials and personnel. They just couldn’t express their sentiments publicly for fear that Drilon would go after them. Drilon has zero tolerance for people who disagree with him.

The Iloilo Customs House today.

From his original plan to utilize only the ground floor for a maritime museum, Drilon wants the entire building for his grandiose and delusional “legacy” project. Because Drilon knows how to flex his political muscle and pull the right strings, the BOC will spend P500,000 a month to rent the old STI building near the Iloilo Mission Hospital in Jaro, Iloilo City.

There is no logic in Drilon’s agenda. Why would the government spend half a million pesos every month to rental office space far from the place of business of the Customs bureau? What kind of museum does he intend to put in that building? Legacy? It’s vanity.

The Customs House is part of Iloilo’s history. It stood witness to the growth and development of Iloilo, which gained international prominence in trade and commerce, starting when it exported locally-produced textiles to European markets. Where it stands beside the Iloilo River, the Customs House was where shippers and traders converged each time a vessel docks at the port. In its halls, customs officials diligently collected duties on goods going through the Iloilo port.

Indeed, customs buildings are a prominent fixture in all major ports around the world. A customs house needs to be close to where the busy shipping traffic is, if only because of the practicality of being proximate to its clientele. There is no customs house that is deep inland. As much as practicable, these buildings are always at the edge of the port area.

Drilon is so obsessed with leaving a stamp of his name in Iloilo even if these projects are burdened by issues of corruption. He has become so unreasonable that he will sacrifice the efficiency of customs operations to get what he wants done.

Customs personnel are apprehensive this will adversely affect their work. And if Drilon does get his way, the history of Iloilo will be drastically changed forever. His vanity will triumph over public service.

If government wants to stop smuggling, then it should embrace XLOG technology

The country’s Bureau of Customs is leaking like a sieve, which explains why until now, smuggling of illegal drugs hasn’t abated. Shabu that is being sold on the streets of the archipelago are manufactured in China. There are no shabu laboratories in the country anymore. Several shipments worth billions of pesos have been intercepted, but this represents only a fraction of the shabu coming into the country. This leaves me wondering if President Duterte is raising his hands in surrender in the face of this pipeline of shabu flowing right under the noses of our customs bureau. Or put another way, it raises questions on whether the government even wants to stop smuggling of shabu.

This is rather tragic because putting a stop to smuggling could have been accomplished as early as the first quarter of 2018 with software developed by Filipino IT experts. Called “XLOG”, the software has been tested and retested, and consistently proved that the leaks in the system could be plugged permanently. It basically removes human intervention in the entire process, and with it, the opportunities for corruption.

If put to use by our Bureau of Customs, XLOG can eliminate delays in getting cargoes processed and released, and ensure that the government collects the right tariffs. What more can the government ask for? It will make exporters and importers happy, get rid of corruption, and increase collections. It’s a simple formula and it’s hard to understand why Customs officials refuse to embrace the technology.

On top of the crystal clear benefits it will bring to the government, XLOG is not even to cost the Bureau of Customs a single centavo. It is being offered entirely for free. All it needs to do is accept the technology, install the application at all ports of entry, and government will reap the rewards in one smooth movement. The technology has been proven effective in plugging the leaks in the present set-up. Government cannot possibly find a better solution to the smuggling problem and the corruption issue.

Of course, once in place, XLOG will eliminate corruption, which is perhaps the reason why there is resistance in the Bureau of Customs. No matter how many shake-ups will be carried out, the corruption will continue to plague the agency, for as long as officials are given broad discretion on letting a cargo shipment go through its checkpoints. Money, especially when it involves millions of pesos for a single transaction, can dilute the strongest of principles among officials.

Hence, we can only watch with despair as more and more smuggling take place on a daily basis at our ports of entry, both for sea and air cargo. We are losing the war, and government has only itself to blame. If Customs chief Isidro Lapena wants to change the situation, all he needs to do is get XLOG to come into the picture. It’s been waiting there on the sidelines. The picture can change in an instant: smuggling can be eliminated once the buttons for XLOG are pressed.

 

 

An economic disaster waiting to happen

The klaxon bells are now blaring to signal the approach of a critical level in the problem caused by the truck ban imposed by the Manila City Government on the operations of the Port of Manila, notably the Manila International Container Port and South Harbor.

File photo by AFP.

File photo by AFP.

In his column, “Market Files” that came out in the Business Mirror, Lito Gagni warned that the situation is nearing “tipping point” and the negative consequences on the national economy could prove disastrous.

The truck ban is just one of the factors, Gagni pointed out. The situation is also aggravated by the longer processing time for import papers and the LTFRB/LTO crackdown on the operation of trucks without franchises, or better known as “colorum”.

Already, the Bureau of Customs has suffered from a shortfall in its collections vis-a-vis its goals. For the first quarter for 2014, it generated collections of P86.501 billion, but this was 8.73% short of its target collection of P94.778 billion for the period. The trend continued in April 2014, with the agency posting only P30.5 billion, or P5.26 billion short of its P35.76 billion goal for the month.

Unless the President of the Republic steps into the picture and intervene, our country’s economy could suffer from a man-made disaster from which recovery might be as difficult as getting back on our feet after Yolanda.