The Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 17, in a six-page ruling by presiding judge Felicitas Laron-Cacandin, approved the 20-day extension until Oct. 21 of the temporary restraining order earlier issued by the court at the request of 15 of the 27 collectors affected by Customs Personnel Order B 189-2013.
The 20-dayTROincludes the 72-hour suspension the court granted on Oct. 1.
CPO B 189-2013 ordered the transfer of 27 district and subport collectors with plantilla positions of Collector 5 and Collector 6 to the Customs Policy Research Office (CPRO) under the DOF.
In its decision, the court said it was “tentatively convinced that the right of the petitioners exists and the implementation of the assailed CPO is violative of their rights.”
The court stressed that while it agrees with the administration’s policy to institute reforms and cleanse the government bureaucracy of corruption, “it lays clear that reforms should also be made under the purview of the dictates of the Constitution as the supreme law of the land and must necessarily satisfy all questions of legalities.”
It added, “The petitioners’ tenure as career service and tenured public officers are put on the line” if theCPOis implemented, and the “reputation and stature that they have built for themselves in exchange of the dedication, toil and hard work through the years that they have invested into the service, is at the brink of dissipation due to the impending implementation.”
Reody Anthony M. Balisi, the petitioners’ lawyer, said theCPOis “tantamount to their demotion although not necessarily related to the diminution to their basic salary but rather removing them from their current status as managerial employees exercising certain powers and authority.”
Balisi said the order “classified the petitioners as mere ‘researchers’ of an office whose main objective is to come up with policies and rules that will further the revenue generation of the Bureau of Customs” and is far from the collectors’ current roles.
Heed the call for reform
Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima urged the collectors to heed President Aquino’s call for BOC reforms. “President Aquino’s quest to stamp out corruption across many institutions is a long and challenging task, and at times it will be difficult for all of us. To our colleagues in the BOC, I call on you to share our President’s vision and accept your orders with nobility,” Purisima said in a statement over the weekend.
The TRO extension only hampers reform efforts, he added. “The Manila RTC’s most recent decision serves those who resist reform and cling desperately to the old ways. This runs counter to President Aquino’s agenda to eradicate the predators that plague Customs and prey not just on businesses but on our balikbayans returning from abroad who are hassled for their personal effects.”
The transfer was not a demotion or dismissal, Purisima said, adding the officials were selected due to their experience and extensive training in customs policy and operation.
“In preparing for our goal to be the most competitive economy for ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) economic integration in 2015, it is important that we have intellectual leadership to guide our customs policy-making,” Purisima said.
“The CPRO officials will continue to enjoy the remuneration due their rank and seniority. Their salary and benefits will not be reduced. The assignment to form the CPRO is the furthest thing from a demotion or dismissal – it is a call for these officials to take a greater part in revitalizing the bureau.”
The 15 collectors who filed theTROare Ronnie C. Silvestre, Edward P. dela Cuesta, Rogel C. Gatchalian, Imelda D. Cruz, Lilibeth S. Sandag, Raymond P. Ventura, Ma. Liza S. Torres, Arnel C. Alcaraz, Ma. Lourdes Mangaoang, Francis Agustin Y. Erpe, Carlos T. So, Marietta D. Zamoranos, Carmelita M. Talusan, Arefiles H. Carreon, and Romalino G. Valdez.
Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon had earlier said the TRO will not affect reforms being done in the bureau.
“The transfer of customs collectors 5 and 6 to the CPRO is just part of a bigger reform agenda for the BOC. We have other reform measures already being undertaken in the BOC. So we don’t see theTROas a major setback to this administration’s thrust to reform the Bureau of Customs,” Biazon said, adding that “we will respect the decision of the court, just as we also respect the decision of all theTROpetitioners to avail of their right to seek court judgment on the issue,” Biazon said. – Roumina M. Pablo