Duterte orders military takeover of Customs

The bureau is being put in the hot seat after former commissioner Isidro Lapeña admitted magnetic lifters seized by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency in August may have contained at least P6.8 billion worth in shabu. Philstar.com photo

President Rodrigo Duterte announced the takeover of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on the Bureau of Customs (BOC) on Sunday, October 28, days after he fired BOC officials and executives.

“They will be replaced, all of them, by military men. It will be a takeover of the Armed Forces in the matter of operating in the meantime while we are sorting out how to effectively meet the challenges of corruption in this country,” Duterte said as reported by The Manila Times.

The president noted that he was forced to make the decision due to the corruption rampant in the department. He revealed his decision during the birthday celebration and thanksgiving party of former Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano at the Marco Polo Hotel, Davao City.  

“We cannot just move on because we want to be lawfully correct so we have to take things slowly. But, with this kind of games that they are playing, dirty games, I am forced now to ask the Armed Forces to take over,” the president added.

Duterte recognized the difficulty that might arise with the weight of his order. However, he emphasized the gravity of corruption in the said bureau and made apparent the necessity of the mandated takeover.

“(We) cannot just dismiss them, even as we deal with the day-to-day reality. Almost all of them there have been – in one way or the other – charged with corruption,” Duterte argued as reported by The Philippine Star.

“I’ll have to file a case which could – appeal after appeal – last for another 10 years. (By that time), we have lost so many billions and you are destroying my country,” he added.

Officials support Duterte’s order

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo justified the order of the president noting that the leader has the right to implement such decision with the authority vested to him by the 1987 Constitution.

“The Constitution provides that the President is the head of the government, head of state and the Commander in Chief of the AFP. The Constitution also provides that he has control over all executive offices and BoC is one of them. With respect to being Commander in Chief, he is authorized under the law to direct the movements of the members of the AFP in any manner he deems fit,” Panelo said.

The presidential spokesperson explained that the takeover was ordered to rid the bureau of the questionable officials and to put a stop to their corrupt activities.

“He said the people he had placed at the top were men of integrity and he trusted them completely. But somehow, because of the rotten system [there], things slipped past them. In other words, those below are the problem. Precisely why he wants troops there, to help out inside,” Panelo said.

Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra supported the president’s decision stating that it is legal and constitutional. He emphasized the need for the AFP’s monitoring as the shipment of drugs would “threaten public safety.”

“Certainly, it will not violate the civilian supremacy rule under Section 3, Article II of the Constitution because the BOC chief is a civilian and the BOC remains under the Department of Finance, which is still under the President,” Guevarra explained.

“Putting the (BOC) under the watchful eye of the AFP is a temporary measure to ensure that the massive entry of illegal drugs, which threatens public safety, is immediately stopped,” the justice secretary stressed.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III expressed his support of Duterte’s mandate as he tweeted that takeover is “needed” as a disciplinary measure to BOC.

“It will be very interesting how things turn out in the BOC with this move. I believe drastic measures are needed to finally crack the whip in the bureau,” Sotto said.

Critics oppose the takeover

Senators were quick to air their sentiments regarding the sudden announcement of military rule in the BOC. Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan shared that the AFP might not be knowledgeable with the ins and outs of the bureau while Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson likened the situation to an incident that happened in the 60s.

“What does AFP know about collecting taxes and tariffs? The bureaucracy is becoming militarized,” Pangilinan said.

“In the early 60’s, some young, idealistic AFP officers were put in charge of the BOC operations. They learned fast, they couldn’t be bribed or intimidated. The smugglers used equally young, beautiful women to influence them. The rest is history. We don’t want to remember,” Lacson said.

Duterte recently appointed AFP chief of staff Rey Leonardo Guerrero to replace the now Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) secretary Isidro Lapeña. 

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