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Former Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon.

Biazon urges government to quantify smuggling

By Gia Catimbang 

The government must take into account off-the-radar information such as the value of smuggled goods in its statistics to have a full picture of the economic situation, former Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon said in the recent Kapihan Sa Manila Hotel forum. 

Biazon said while the government has concrete figures on local output, legal importation and misdeclared goods such as rice, it lacks data on smuggled commodities.

Biazon questioned, for instance, why smuggled rice continues amid constant prices of local produce and the constant flow of legally imported rice.

“If there is an oversupply caused by smuggling, then there should be a decline in prices. And of course, if there is an abundance in supply then demand for smuggled products should be minimized,” the former commissioner said.

Back in April, the BOC discovered an estimated P289 million worth of smuggled rice shipments from Vietnam, Pakistan and Thailand at the Cebu International Port.

Twelve container vans carrying imported rice from China with an estimated value of P20 million were also captured during the operation at the South Harbor of the port of Manila last Aug. under the guise of leatherette.

The president himself even noticed the “lapses” of the agriculture sector, commenting in a press release that smuggling activities will cease if only the country can produce available and affordable food for the Filipinos.

“Right now, Philippine agriculture is like a child lost in the forest of programs and projects, which do not directly contribute to food production,” President Duterte said.

Biazon also implored the government to discover the ‘real role of customs’ through research, as he remarks that Philippine BOC is a “principally a revenue-generating agency” whereas customs abroad specializes on its ‘true’ purpose as border security and trained in facilitation.

He also commended the first year of the Duterte administration as “very tough” and expected that the coming second year has a room for “improvement.”

The government, however, insisted that its no-nonsense drive against corruption and other irregularities including smuggling has led to a seven percent increase in revenue collection for the first 11 months of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration alone, the Department of Finance reported Thursday.

“From July 2016 to May 2017, government collected about P2.09 trillion in revenues. That is seven percent higher than the same period the previous year,” Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said.

“The increase in collections means to say that a lot of effort has gone into collection and that the collections are not going into private pockets,” he said.

The DoF chief said this was due to the administrative reforms implemented at the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) that substantially improved the government’s revenue effort.

“At the BIR, we have expanded the Large Taxpayers Service for closer monitoring of large businesses. At the Bureau of Customs, we have strengthened anti-smuggling capabilities, reflecting in dramatically improved collections,” Dominguez said.

According to him, there are several indicators that the BIR and BOC have moved ahead in reducing corruption.

Among them is the strengthened Run After Tax Evaders program of the BIR that has led to the filing of 40 cases involving tax liabilities of PHP40 billion.

As for erring personnel, Dominguez said that the BIR has already removed quite a number of individuals who were accused and caught doing illicit activities.

“I personally dismissed two regional directors who were caught — who were involved in harassing individual taxpayers. So they have been moved out of their offices and are now awaiting to be charged,” he said.

“The BIR has also cleaned up its ranks by relieving or transferring personnel with unsavory records or collection performance. They have strengthened their internal affairs services, upgraded salaries, and a number of people have been dropped from the rolls,” Dominguez said,

Over at the BOC, he reported that the anti-smuggling drive had netted the government PHP8.4 billion in confiscated goods from August 2016 to June 2017.

“This is seven and a half times more than the PHP1.2 billion seized in smuggled goods registered in 2015,” Dominguez said.

The BOC have likewise been able to auction out two shipments of abandoned goods and collected additional taxes and duties and surcharges totaling almost PHP90 million pesos through the agencies command center.

“Under Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon, the BOC abolished, created, and transferred offices to promote transparency and curb corruption,” the top Finance official said.

He however said that fighting corruption at the main revenue offices is far from over and reforms will be continuously implemented to further minimize corruption.

“I’m not saying all the corruption is finished in the Bureau, but they have definitely moved very far ahead in improving their collections,” Dominguez said.

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