Posted on Saturday Apr 25th at 4:00am
By Paolo Romero

MANILA, Philippines – For refusing to raise P3 billion for the campaign kitty of the Liberal Party (LP), John Sevilla was pressured to resign as Bureau of Customs chief by the ruling party, the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) said yesterday.
UNA interim president and Navotas City Rep. Tobias Tiangco said the LP pressured Sevilla to resign after the latter refused to make the BOC a milking cow of the ruling party.

“The pressure for the LP on Sevilla to contribute P3 billion was too much to bear. He and others have felt the political atmosphere in the bureau. It appears that commissioner Sevilla could not stomach what these pressure groups want him to do with the agency so he resigned,” Tiangco said.

He did not name those who had allegedly forced Sevilla to resign. The UNA official said Sevilla was not able to stand the “sanctimonious and hypocritical MAD group in the LP,” referring to Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II, Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, and Senate President Franklin Drilon.

He said the same group invented the unconstitutional Disbursement Acceleration Program.

He said Sevilla is a known anti-corruption advocate and would rather resign than be tainted by impropriety while in government.
Tiangco said with the elections drawing near, the administration has been appointing officials in key government posts who can help contribute to the LP’s campaign kitty.

With the campaign season just a few months away, Tiangco noted that the administration is proverbially circling the wagons by appointing people to key government agencies that can contribute to LP’s campaign kitty.

Reforms steady

Meanwhile, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima assured the public that President Aquino remains committed to reforming the BOC. Purisima was reacting to Sevilla’s pronouncement shortly after his resignation that corruption and influence peddling were rampant at the BOC.

In yesterday afternoon’s turnover ceremony at the BOC, Purisima told Customs employees that it was precisely in pursuit of reforms that made Aquino appoint Albert Lina to replace Sevilla.
This was the second time Lina was named BOC chief. He served for five months during the Arroyo administration in 2005.

“Without his (Aquino’s) support we would not have accomplished what Commissioner Sevilla accomplished, what we have accomplished the past 4 1/2 years,” said Purisima.

“His ‘tuwid na daan’ (straight path) agenda is unwavering, we talk it, we walk it, we dream about where it can bring us. In 2014 we have proven under the leadership of Commissioner Sevilla that BOC can actually be reformed,” Purisima said.

“The best evidence is the fact that collections grew by 21 percent, the numerous operational reforms that were underway is another evidence and the renewed confidence that people have in the organization,” he added.

He also said that “in a democracy politics is a reality of life,” apparently referring to insinuations that pressure groups may have had a hand in Sevilla’s decision to quit.

“I believe that the two go hand-in-hand but we can have institutions that preserve our expectations under this setting. There will be challenges along the way, but I think we should persevere,” he said.
He also pointed out that those in government do not stay in government forever and “our challenge is to make sure we do the best we can during our short time we are in the government.”

Making a difference

With the elections fast approaching, Purisima implied Lina’s stint at the BOC would not be very long. “I hope you can make a big difference,” he told Lina.

Lina, in his acceptance speech, promised to carry on the reforms initiated by his predecessor.

He expressed belief that his background in business, particularly logistics, would be an asset. “Further, as a keen observer of Customs, from the outside looking in, I have many ideas I think will make our processes more efficient and systematic. I agree when Commissioner Sevilla says, ‘Reform is not glamorous. Reform is in the little every day improvements that we can give the public.’”

He sees increasing the efficiency and improving the revenue collection as his two main tasks as the new commissioner.

One of the challenges that the BOC would be facing is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) integration, he said. This initiative is expected to increase trade and economic activity with the country’s ASEAN neighbors.

“It is imperative that we ask ourselves if we are prepared for this impending expansion. We have no other recourse.  We must be ready. It is time to engage our ‘bosses’ in an environment revitalized with the spirit of true and efficient service,” he added.

Lina mentioned that battling corruption is one of the five essential principles that the BOC must adhere to for the ASEAN integration.

“Corruption is one of the biggest impediments to economic growth and prosperity in the country. We must battle this with a combination of factors – increased awareness, appropriate technology, and resolute action on violators,” Lina said.