This weekend’s Your Forum question is very simple; it’s this: Can anyone ever stop the corruption at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) in the Philippines? The PHP6.4 billion-worth of crystal meth that was given the green light to pass through all port controls at the Manila International Container Port (photo) in May is undoubtedly a massive scandal – not least given the government’s war on illegal drugs. But over the history of the BOC, that one incident – in terms of the value of smuggled contraband – is less than a drop in the ocean. In fact, it barely makes an impact on the annual cost of smuggling.
Corruption at the BOC is deeply entrenched – and widespread; it affects all 17 ports across the country. Government estimates back in 2015 put the cost of smuggling through those ports at PHP200 billion a year – that amounts to PHP547 million in lost revenue every single day.
Between 2005 and 2009 – during the administration of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo – based on data from the United Nations Commission on Trade, PHP94.87 billion was smuggled through the ports system in agricultural products alone. Statistics from other administrations are similarly depressing.
This is a government department riddled with corrupt practices. Corruption there is institutionalised; systemic – it runs through every strata from management; from billing to goods handling. And it always has. This isn’t a problem of a few rotten apples in the barrel; this is a problem with a corroded barrel that’s causing the apples to rot. The scope for corruption at the BOC is huge. The point is, for smuggling to be successful it requires a long chain of cooperation.
And that’s precisely why President Rodrigo Duterte appointed Nicanor Faeldon to clean out the Augean Stables there. Evidently, he failed.
Now a new BOC Commissioner has been appointed – Isidro Lapeña, who moves across from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency which he headed as director-general. We wish him the best of luck. But whether he succeeds where others before him have failed, remains to be seen. What we do know is that he has his work cut out.