Philippine Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña has ordered that alerted shipments be inspected within 48 hours to prevent corruption.
Customs stakeholders fear receiving alert orders because “it will take an eternity before (they are) lifted,” said Lapeña in a September 29 press briefing.
He explained that alert orders are issued based on information of an irregularity or discrepancy in a shipment. If the information is verified to be untrue, then the shipment has to be released. If the information proves true, Lapeña said the shipment will be held and subjected to a 100% physical examination, and if warranted, be issued with a warrant of seizure and detention.
He added that the customs officer who issued the alert order should be responsible for ensuring that the shipment is inspected within 48 hours. The alerting officer should also be responsible for releasing the shipment in case of a false report and for implementing necessary measures for information that proves positive.
He said this is to pre-empt finger-pointing on who should be responsible for the alerted shipment.
“This time we will make some people responsible when they issue that alert order,” Lapeña added.
The new customs commissioner said the directive seeks to facilitate the movement of container vans of traders and businessmen who have paid the correct duties and taxes.
He added that delays in processing are also a venue for corruption, with traders resorting to paying tara (grease money) in order to fast-track the release of their shipments.
He said he will issue an official memorandum on this directive, but as of October 2, no memorandum has been signed.
The new customs commissioner, on his second day in office on August 31, signed a memorandum abolishing the Command Center (ComCen), the only unit allowed to issue alert orders during the time of former customs commissioner Nicanor Faeldon.
The memorandum returns the authority to issue alert orders to the district collectors and to the deputy commissioners of intelligence and enforcement groups. Lapeña said this shows his full trust and confidence in the officers of BOC. The abolition of the special unit also came after lawmakers, in previous Congress hearings, questioned the creation and efficiency of the ComCen after P6.4 billion worth of shabu (methamphetamine hydrochloride) slipped past BOC.
Under the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, which makes alert orders mandatory and lawful, only customs officers duly authorized by the customs commissioner may issue alert orders. A clearing house for alert orders must also be created. – Roumina Pablo
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