'Customary' to put out the hat for Friday collections
Bribes replace import duty as press probe uncovers dodgy officials sneaking thousands of containers through the port of Manila and making them vanish.
Every Friday afternoon at 3pm, a bunch of officials from the Bureau of Customs meet in the port of Manila to collect their bribes from businessmen keen to "expedite" the release of their imports.
This, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, is an open secret in the Customs bureau. It is also the reason contacting Customs on Friday afternoons is apparently so difficult.
The Inquirer uncovered this Friday graft gathering while investigating the disappearance of import containers that arrived in Manila by sea and were trucked to nearby Batangas port for trasshipment. The boxes never arrived.
At first 600 hundred containers were found to be missing (we covered that in an earlier blog), but a probe soon uncovered more boxes. The number of unaccounted for containers now totals 3,656.
Not surprisingly, Customs Bureau Commisioner Angelito Alvarez was sacked by none other than President Aquino himself. A new Customs chief will be appointed but we doubt that it will do much good – if the stink is coming from inside, you can open as many windows as you like but it won’t go away.
No one is surprised that there is corruption in the Philippines. The country has been shockingly governed for decades and corruption is endemic. What is surprising is the organized nature of the organized crime. If only that much effort was put into doing the right thing.
Philippine Senator Panfilo Lacson told the Inquirer that Customs officials even offered "package deals" for importers wanting their boxes to leave the port without being inspected or paying duties. Instead of the going rate of US$8,262 per box, a shipper with more boxes could be offered $3,541 per container, according to Lacson.
Presumably this would only occur if the importer were involved in the Customs “known shipper” programme.
There are also suspicions that transshipment permits issued by the Bureau of Customs are covers for legalized smuggling.
For the smuggling on that scale to have succeeded, everyone at the Bureau of Customs has to have either been in on the deal or have knowledge of it. It is inconceivable, for instance, that there is anyone in the department who has never heard about the Friday bribe collections.
Sadly, even the exposure of this impressive operation is unlikely to lead to a thorough purging of the system because it runs too deep. Senator Lacson will not be the sheriff who cleans up Dodge, and after all this blows over or is swept under the carpet, Dodge will soon be back to its dodgy dealing best.