New Customs chief to crack down on smuggling

THE NEW Bureau of Customs (BoC) chief said he will intensify the agency’s efforts against smuggling, particularly of drugs, guns, and agricultural products, as well as improve revenue collection.

Former BoC and Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) official Yogi Filemon Ruiz formally assumed office as acting Customs commissioner on Monday, taking over from Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero.

In a speech at the turnover ceremony at the BoC head office, Mr. Ruiz said his top priorities are “zero tolerance for drug smugglers,” curbing gun smuggling, and eliminating the smuggling of agricultural products.

In the six months to June, the BoC confiscated P8.37 billion worth of smuggled items across 293 joint seizure operations, which included the seizure of P1.67 billion worth of illegal drugs.

As of end June, the BoC also apprehended smuggled agricultural products valued at P284 million.

Mr. Ruiz said he will also focus on increasing much-needed revenues for the government.

In the six months to June, the BoC already collected P396.80 billion, which is already 21.05% more than its midyear target of P327.81 billion due to high oil prices and the peso’s depreciation against the US dollar. The Customs bureau set a collection target of P671.66 billion for 2022.

“One of the policies we’ll be adopting is, we will be giving them (district collectors) their target revenue for the month and if they could not hit their target revenue then (they can) expect to be replaced by someone who can hit the target revenue,” Mr. Ruiz said.

Mr. Ruiz said he will also continue efforts to fully digitalize Customs processes, as well as raise employee morale and eliminate corruption.

“I am not here to please anyone but only one person, the President,” Mr. Ruiz said. “To my colleagues who don’t want to do right, don’t test my patience.”

Earlier this month, the BoC said that it already conducted 333 internal investigations of personnel suspected of corruption or irregular activity in the first half of the year. Some of the personnel were dismissed, suspended, or reassigned to other posts.

The BoC has already started ramping up the digitalization of its import and export processes due to the pandemic.

“To date, 33 ICT projects and systems have been implemented, resulting in the automation of 91.76% or 156 out of the 170 customs processes — more than double from where BoC started just three years ago,” it said last week.

In 2016, the BoC said that only 28% of Customs processes were automated.

Also, Mr. Ruiz said he will “carry on the good governance and process reforms that were started” by Mr. Guerrero during his term.

Mr. Ruiz was the head of the BoC’s Enforcement & Security Service for nearly five years since 2017. He was also regional director for the PDEA for seven years in different regions. — Diego Gabriel C. Robles