A COURT order suspending the transfer of 27 collectors of the Philippine Bureau of Customs (BOC) to a newly-formed unit at the Department of Finance (DOF) will not affect the overall reform of the agency.
This is the view of Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon, whose agency is undergoing a total reform initiated by the President himself, who called the bureau “the face of corruption in government”.
“The transfer of customs collectors 5 and 6 to the CPRO (Customs Policy Research Office) 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 the TRO as a major setback to this administration’s thrust to reform the Bureau of Customs,” Biazon said in a statement, adding “We will respect the decision of the court, just as we also respect the decision of all the TRO petitioners to avail of their right to seek court judgment on the issue.”
Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima expressed dismay at the court decision, saying “reform at the BOC is an absolute necessity directed by President Aquino himself.”
The implementation of Customs Personnel Order (CPO) B-189-2013 “is crucial not just to restoring trust in the BOC but to stamp out smugglers once and for all,” he added.
On October 1, Manila RTC Branch 22 presiding judge Marino dela Cruz Jr. issued a 3-page decision approving a 72-hour temporary restraining order against the implementation of CPO B-189-2013, which transfers the collectors to the CPRO under the DOF.
“There is extreme urgency in the matter as the assailed CPO was made effective immediately and the petitioners stand to face the enforcement of such CPO which they believe to be violative of their respective statutory and constitutional right to security of tenure,” the court said.
The petition was filed by 15 out of the 27 collectors affected by the transfer order, including Edward dela Cuesta of the Cebu Port, Rogel Gatchalian of the Port of Manila, and Carlos So of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.
The 12 other collectors have complied with the order and have reported to the CPRO, according to Biazon in a radio interview.
Purisima questioned the petitioners’ intent in filing the TRO and debunked their allegations that the transfer to the CPRO is equal to a demotion and dismissal.
“The CPRO is a legitimate office created with the purpose of ensuring that the BOC is aligned with the international standards on customs administration. These collectors, by their own admission of seniority and rank, are in fact the most qualified to reach this objective. They are all experts in customs procedures, policies and global trade practices. They have the experience and received government-sponsored training to identify and correct weaknesses in customs operations. It is not a ghost office. Furthermore, these officials are still employees. There is no change in their tenure, salary or benefits,” the finance chief said.
He said that the collectors insisting on keeping their port posts will only disrupt operations which have returned to normal, adding that “they cannot go back to their ports now as this will be in violation of the COMELEC election ban on appointments”.
Meanwhile, Manila RTC branch 39 under presiding judge Noli Diaz on Sept. 27 denied a petition for TRO on CPO B-134-2013 filed by the BOC Employees Association (BOCEA) national president Romulo Pagulayan for lack of merit.
CPO B-134-2013 ordered all BOC personnel detailed to various posts to return to the original units described in their appointments.
Purisima, while welcoming the Branch 39’s resolution, urged the courts to commit to clarity in their decisions.
“I urge the courts to come to clarity on these crucial administrative reforms. Our courts must support the fight for good governance, not frustrate and hamper it,” Purisima said.
BOCEA said the order would affect as many as 2,000 BOC personnel; however, the court ruled that BOC employees had no right to cling to their positions.
“Considering that the Head of the Bureau of Customs, with the conformity of the Secretary of the Department of Finance, only wanted to return the affected BOC employees to their original plantilla positions/mother units to further improve the efficiency of its operations, the said BOC employees have no right to cling to their present positions because that is not their original position in the first place,” the court said. –– Roumina M. Pablo