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Pax Aduana – Peace thru the ports

Philippine Star headlined, “Asean vows to fight drug menace, terrorism [8/9/17]. It reads: “Fighting the drug menace and terrorism with greater vigor highlighted the declaration of commitment by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the end of its ministerial meeting yesterday and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the regional bloc.

Malaya reported that “President Duterte yesterday endorsed the proposed 16-nation Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is expected to promote and strengthen the markers in the region.” [8/9/17, p. B1]

And, Business World wrote “Duterte backs China’s RCEP.” It said, “President Rodrigo R. Duterte on Tuesday called on Southeast Asia to fight protectionism as he endorsed a China-backed free trade agreement widely viewed as a rival to the US-backed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).” [8/9/17, p. S1/3]

RCEP is a proposed free trade agreement among the 10-member ASEAN economies plus their major trading partners namely, China, South Korea, Australia, India, Japan and New Zealand.

That RCEP is China-backed while TPP is US initiated is not the province of this piece. Rather, it is the emphasis on free trade with which the Philippines have been pursuing vigorously. Nothing wrong with free trade, after all, whether we are a net importing economy or not, we have no choice but to keep pace with the demands of globalization, with free trade, with open borders. To do otherwise would be to dwell in the past–isolationism; and, in this day and age, isolationism will only succeed in isolating its practitioners. So go, knock down our barriers, as we already did, years ago! The Asean Economic Integration kicked in last December of 2015, and we have several free trade agreements (FTAs) to date, and we can have some more.

But, what gives?

Yes, alligator, Pax Aduana, or peace thru the ports, is at risk.

Intelligence observers are one in saying that “knock off” or trading of counterfeits have become the biggest source of terrorists’ funding–these goods are trafficked through the ports, and airports; terrorist’s hardware like that of the magnitude of Marawi are sneaked in through the coasts–the Philippines has the 3rd or 4th longest coastline in the world; and, the Philippines, being the 12th or 13th most population nation, have noticeably become a 3-in-1 drug haven, that is, origin-transit-destination.

But, isn’t it that we are making unprecedented headway in the campaign against illegal drugs?

Let’s listen to the incisive Jarius Bondoc of Philippine Star (Gotcha, August 9, 2017), he wrote:

“No wonder that — despite seven million police “tok-hang” (house calls) on known addict-pushers and two million surrenders; despite 45,000 drug raids and buy busts, 55,000 arrests, and 4,000 gory slayings; despite the discovery and dismantling of 11 large “shabu” (crystal meth) factories nationwide, and the quintupling of street prices in the past year — dozens of druggies still are reported everyday. They have steady supplies of the stuff, from China, whisked in gigantic quantities past the notoriously rooked, inept Customs.

“The 604 kilos of shabu from Xiamen that Customs only belatedly seized from a warehouse outside town was only one-fourth of the lot. Worth P6.5 billion, it came concealed in five steel cylinders mixed with kitchenware, light bulbs, and apparel in a cargo container. Informants told Congress inquiries that 18 more cylinders had slipped in. That bigger shipment has since dispersed into city slums.

“If five cylinders can hold 604 kilos, then 18 cylinders yield 2,175 kilos. That much shabu can plaster 2,175,000 addicts for two weeks straight.

“If 604 kilos is worth P6.5 billion, then 2,175 kilos is P23.4 billion. that’s how rich the narco-smuggler became from one shipment alone.”

Lawyer-columnist Mary Ann LL. Reyes noted that “[r]unning the customs bureau is no small feat.” Indeed. And, even if what she wrote that the “many are starting to realize that Customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon is not the man for the job” were true, I would like to believe that given the current realities of the Customs bureau–despite its brand new Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA)–nobody can become “the man for the job.”

BOC must be repurposed–transfer the supervision and control over customs assessment and collection tasks to the BIR (after all, the bigger chunk of BOC’s collection comprises the internal revenue taxes–most imports are now duty-neutral, zero-rated, and eco-zone bound), and enhance its intelligence and enforcement functions to include border security in what will be left of BOC (national security must now be mainstreamed into the scheme of things of the BOC); then, probably rename the agency as Customs Intelligence and Border Protection Bureau.

Methinks, decoupling its revenue collection priority from its enforcement functions — where the pressure of the former causes the laxity in the latter — is what PAX ADUANA requires.#

Image from: Wikimedia Commons | Andy Samaniego

About Atty. Ramon Cuyco

Ramon G. Cuyco, Esq., CESO (inactive), former Regional Director, LTO; former DOTC Spokesperson; former Customs Director, former Head, Competitive Planning and Management Staff of the Bureau of Immigration. Currently, a Project-based Consultant at the Development Academy of the Philippines.

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