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The order for Philippine customs staff to return to their mother units caused mayhem during shipment processing, with some divisions left with few or worse, no workers.

FACING the backlash of an earlier decision to order back all customs personnel to their plantilla positions, Philippine Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon in a memorandum dated Sept. 17 directed bureau staff to stay in their posts temporarily to avoid a disruption of operations at the bureau.

At the same time, Biazon issued Customs Personnel Order (CPO) No. B-143-2013 detailing staff assumption of duties and functions in the event a vacancy or loss of authority occurs during the recall.

The chief’s first memorandum instructed all district and sub-port collectors to temporarily retain their designations until the deadline to report to their original/permanent units. That deadline falls today, Sept. 23, for all district and subport collectors designated as supervising customs operating officers and customs operations officers III; Sept. 25 for all chief customs operations officers and customs operations officers V; and Sept. 27 for all remaining officers and employees.

CPO No. B-143-2013 applies to the following positions: port collectors, sub-port collectors, examiners, appraisers, and other critical positions involved in the importation, exportation, and release of cargo.

The CPO said vacant positions will be filled in by the person next-in-rank in the same port. In case there are several persons in line with the same rank, the person considered the most senior, first based on the date of appointment will get the vacant post. If several have the same appointment date, then the assignment will be based on age.

All personnel affected by the order will have to report to the Department of Finance (DOF) within two days, as failure to do so will be ground for administrative sanctions, Biazon’s order stated.

Both the memorandum and the CPO took effect immediately.

Customs employees said the memorandum and CPO, both dated Sept.17, were disseminated only in the afternoon of Sept. 18. That was when mayhem resulting from the recall order and staff slowdown had already caused shipments awaiting customs release to pile up at the ports.

Biazon’s twin directives came a day after the Chamber of Customs Brokers Inc. (CCBI) sent the commissioner a letter expressing the brokers’ “apprehension” at the developments at the piers.

CCBI said it is “extremely worried that this continued slowdown/stoppage of services is causing untold delays in all kinds of cargoes specially the perishables both exports and imports.”

The group said its members had already felt the impact of the slowdown and asked to be briefed first before the BOC implements any plans to avoid misunderstanding.

CCBI asked that “this endeavor will not be at the cost of delayed and missed deliveries” that can result in cancellation of import and export orders and factories closing momentarily their production lines because of non-arrival of materials.

The Philippine International Seafreight Forwarders Association Inc. (PISFA) also wrote to Biazon on Sept.18 seeking his “assistance on how to find an alternative solution or remedy in the facilitation of the clearing of cargoes.” PISFA said its members had been facing tremendous delays for a couple of days that caused backlogs and a buildup of cargoes that need to be released.

The Port Users Confederation Inc. likewise sent a letter to Biazon requesting deferment “of the implementation (of the recall) until temporary personnel are assigned” to do the processing of documents.

The Bureau of Customs Employees Association (BOCEA), which has led protests against the recall order, is still unsatisfied with the temporary assumption of posts.

In a position paper, BOCEA said it “strongly declares its opposition to CPO B-134-2013” that the association believes has been “hastily done” and implemented without consultation with the employees.

“Actually, our last meeting with him (Biazon) was last Friday and he informed us that his appeal to revoke the CPO was submitted to the Finance (department),” BOCEA officer Rommel Franscisco told PortCalls. However, since there was “no movement” from the DOF, the employees were “pushed to the wall” to comply, said Francisco.

Association members have staged sporadic lunchtime noise barrages since Sept. 16. BOCEA clarified that members still do their jobs despite going out to protest at lunch break. Francisco said employees are against the order because of the dislocation it will cause. He said some BOCEA members have complied but with heavy hearts.

Francisco said the association is made up of about 2,000 customs employees nationwide, almost 90% of the total, but not all have joined the noise barrage.

In a text message to PortCalls, CCBI president Ruby Riga said brokers are waiting for the slowdown to “get off” but added that it seems it is going to take awhile.

Riga and other CCBI officials attended a meeting with Biazon on Friday. Results of the discussion have yet to be disclosed.

Some brokers whom PortCalls had contacted said there had been changes since Monday, with processing of papers slowing down, add to this the problem of the electronic-to-mobile (e2m) server bogging down.

Biazon himself had foreseen the adverse impact of the recall order. A local report quoted him as saying last Sept. 12 the move might paralyze operations and revenue collection in his bureau as some of the customs offices would be left unmanned.

“The initial feedback from the field units is that a big percentage (of the personnel) would be affected. In one port, 70% of their personnel would be affected. But there are certain units that have no plantilla positions, so 100% of their personnel would be affected,” the customs chief said.

He said the Department of Finance had given the BOC until Sept. 27 to comply with the directive. (The Commission on Elections bans the movement of government personnel starting the following day, Sept. 28.)

One unit that would be heavily affected is the X-Ray Inspection Project (XIP), which does not have its own plantilla, as do the Risk Management Office (RMO) and the Mindanao Container Terminal (MCT). Staff from other BOC units were taken from the Enforcement Group (EG).

“So if all the XIP personnel would return to the EG, we would be left with no one on XIP. The solution is to assign somebody else to the unit,” Biazon said.

Biazon said if vacant posts would not be filled, the smuggling problem might get worse. He added that if operations are disrupted, revenue collection will also be affected.

Meanwhile, port operator Asian Terminals Inc. said in a statement last Wednesday it was business as usual at the South Harbor despite the ongoing personnel realignment at the BOC.

“ATI is working closely with the BOC to make sure that our gateway ports remain efficient for the benefit of the port community and in support of the growing economy,” ATI vice president for commercial and marketing Sean Perez said.

ATI said Port of Manila district collector Atty Rogel Gatchalian, whose original unit is the Port of Manila, has put in place “contingency measures” to ensure that critical positions that are left vacant by recalled personnel remain functional. This includes operations, assessment, transshipment, exports, warehousing and Philippine Economic Zone Authority transactions.––Roumina M. Pablo

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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