Thoughts of a General in BOC Davao

mar 13-19, 2014

By Cha Monforte, Rural Urban News

It seems military generals placed by President PNoy in the Bureau of Customs are in for big surgical operations. 
They have not parachuted to fill up the juicy customs posts like the district collector. They’re in for a big project- to reboot the Customs after for decades it has been tarnished by massive corruption.

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BOC Davao District Collector General Ernesto Ruiz Aradanas (RUN photo)

Well, for the uninitiated, the current “Uproot Corruption, Reboot Customs” Reform Project declared this as the rationale-objective: “A long history of backroom deals, institutionalized theft, and impunity has made the Bureau of Customs one of the most prominent faces of corruption in government. That is beginning to change.

Drastic shifts in leadership personnel, and processes are already taking place, as a result of the administration’s comprehensive reform agenda. Our aim: to revitalize the bureaucracy, to uproot the culture of corruption, and to jump-start a virtuous cycle of integrity and true public service in the BOC”.

Last February 3 retired Brigadier General Ernesto Ruiz Aradanas assumed the post as the district collector of the BOC Port of Davao that has jurisdiction over two ports in Davao City and the sub-ports of General Santos City (Dadiangas), Mati in Davao Oriental and Parang, Maguindanao.

Last Friday the BOC Davao compound was different- haosiao brokers on the rush were no longer swarming over. BOC personnel were on their top-up uniforms and people engaging complied with the dress code imposed by the general- collector.

The BOC compound is neat and clean since that week when General Aradanas had his management style started to sway the BOC Davao for good.

The General in BOC Davao has already met twice the Davao media in two formal press conferences. The first was last Feb. 18 at the BOC compound grounds. And the second was last Wednesday, March 12 at the BOC annex building’s viewdeck.

From the two press conferences, the Rural Urban News noted of the General’s school of thoughts, views, insights and policies on how he would steer the BOC Port of Davao which collects at least P30 million a day.

For his first month in the post, February 2014, the BOC Port of Davao registered cash collection of P605,181,676.40, up by 4.4 percent of its target collection of P579,402,000. For the past five years, the BOC Davao has consistently surpassed its assigned collection even as the entire Bureau of Customs and major ports in Metro Manila and other parts of the country failed to reach their target.

But the general obviously looks up for more collection, far so high from its annual target assigned by the BOC national headquarters in Manila.

And here are his thoughts on various issues relating and affecting BOC:
During the 2nd press conference: 
Asked if he could finally stop smuggling at customs, General Aradanas bluntly said “No!”
He laboured to add: “It can’t happen overnight. This would take years. Swertihin na tayo if we can stop it in five years’ time.”
He pointed out that the problem is a complex one that needs participation of all stakeholders involved and dealing with the customs, inside and outside.
He added there is an “internal audience” that must be considered in the current reform moves but “once society will not confirm these, it will take us a long time. This is the reality if we allow ourselves for the things in time to change.”
He also defined tara as the amount that does not go to the government.
He said that a long time ago tara technically meant taxes and duties given to the government and through the years it had changed in meaning, which means the “extra money” that goes to “collection outside.”
(Others dealing with customs said that tara evolved to be a bribe money for under-the-table deals given out of seeking approval from corrupt customs officials for special treatment such as undervaluing of shipment, non- or misdeclaration. This results to technical smuggling and loss of government revenues).
Aradanas vowed to make “radical innovation” that the other side of stakeholders like the brokers of importers and exporters will pay to the government and “no more extra money to be given to collection outside”.
“It’s not an easy job. It’s a job to be done by all of us,” he told reporters.

During the 1st press conference:
On corruption at BOC: He said that they have “to basically address the problem”. There’s a perception on that, and there’s a need “to rectify in the context of Manila level.” There are people in the customs who “want to do good” but the “problem is complicated and complex” that “sometimes they deviate from..”. “The present personnel of BOC Davao have committed to support Commissioner John Sevilla. Within that context we have to improve the customs. We need to be open for cooperation with other agencies, and to protect our borders. And basically improve the organization. We need cooperation with the BOC Manila and the stakeholders in the port of Davao.”
“A long time ago a lot of people want to influence how the customs would be run. The President wants to remove these people outside of our actions, who are trying to influence…the reason why we removed the lines. …A big big truly welcome development is that we are no longer beholden to anybody.”
“We are trying to remove the Friday habit… to stop those collecting informally or those spreading the sunshine, the culture. In my opinion, there is an entourage syndrome that is happening at customs…. which destroyed the plantilla positions and gave way to informal cash flow”.
He said that in the past whenever customs officials were transferred to new assignments, they carried with them an entourage of their men who dealt with the informal cash flow. 
He added that the BOC has 200 plus itemized plantilla positions but only 50 percent had been filled up. He hinted that the unfilled-up posts were filled in by haosiao personnel. “In 2008 they (customs officials then) did not implement the rationalization program, that included filling up the plantilla positions… which encouraged the problem.”
“Many collectors are acting, and so with personnel down the line.” “Now we have a lot of vacant positions… like in BOC Davao, where the post of legal division is not filled up when I arrived. Also, the CDRC is not functional.”
“There’s a pending bill in Congress to reorganize customs” that would raise salaries. Officials have been seeing that there’s a lot of malpractices going on in the customs. The perception is that the customs personnel “ay gutom na, may maliit na sahod, na nasa isang room na punong-puno ng pera. Pag walang nakakita, walang CCTV, kukuha yan ng maliit…. The bill is still under study.”
As to the Friday habit: “It’s the most important day… where there’s informal collection which is being distributed. In the two weeks that I am here, we are now trying to discourage, eliminate that. We are trying to identify the real stakeholders. They have to adjust with our new system, with our dress code.”
Before reporters, he vowed he would implement a no-smuggling, no-fixer, no haosiao broker, no tara policy.
Tara refers to the bribe money given to Customs officials and personnel by those who wanted to make undue external interventions to BOC.
“We do not tolerate smuggling in this port and we will endeavour to cub misdeclarations, which is technical smuggling also, while increasing valuations in accordance to the approved reference values. We will perform our function to ultimately curb illicit trade and all forms of Customs fraud. We intend to make the Port of Davao as one of the best Ports in the country,” Aradanas declared.
Before reporters, he swore that in the two weeks’ time since he assumed office he came to know that “there are more good people” in his port of assignment that reflects “beyond perception” on the bureau being seen as one of the most corrupt in the government.
In the following Monday,Feb. 24, Aradanas celebrated his birthday at the BOC Davao grounds tendering a simple boodle fight dinner for his personnel. (Rural Urban News/Cha Monforte)

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Who is General Aradanas?
General and Collector Ernesto Ruiz Aradanas is among of the at least eight retired military and police generals who took over the plum posts of BOC officials who were transferred to the so-called “freezer” – the Customs Policy Research Office (CPRO) under the Dept. of Finance.
Aradanas told reporters in a press conference that in December last year he was asked by “some people in BOC if I can help (BOC).
In January he joined DOF from his post as the executive vice president of the National Defense College.
He has a stint serving in various capacities as a military officer in Jolo, Sulu, and the provinces of Surigao, Davao del Norte, Davao Oriental, Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat.
He was the 603rd brigade commander of the Phil. Army based in Calamansig, Sultan Kudarat before he joined the National Defense College (NDC).
Prior his NDC’s stint starting in 2010, Aradanas was with the Strategic Studies Division in Camp Aguinaldo.
He was born in Cebu. His father is from Pangasinan and his mother is from Cebu.
He is the fifth district collector designated in eight months’ time when the BOC became shaky due to reform moves that triggered personnel transfers and reshuffles following the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) where the BOC was castigated for the continued rampant smuggling happening in the country’s ports. (Rural Urban News/Cha Monforte)

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