STIFFER PENALTIES AWAIT CORRUPT OFFICIALS UNDER NEW CUSTOMS LAW -ANGARA

Senator Sonny Angara has called for the full implementation of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) which, among others, imposes harsher penalties against delinquent officials and employees of the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

During Monday's hearing of the House of Representatives on the smuggling of P6.4-billion worth of shabu from China, a customs broker revealed the names of BOC officials who allegedly received "tara" or grease money in exchange for the release of a cargo.

"Kapag napatunayang nagkaroon nga ng suhulan, dapat ay agad na panagutin ang mga tiwaling opisyal at empleyado ng Customs na responsable sa anomalyang ito. We increased the outdated amount of fines and penalties under the CMTA to make the law a stronger deterrent to smuggling," said Angara, who sponsored CMTA or Republic Act 10863.

Under Section 1431 (d) of CMTA, any BOC officer or employee who conspired or colluded to defraud the customs revenue will be penalized with imprisonment of not less than six years but not more than 12 years, and a fine of not less than P500,000 but not more than P1 million.

Guilty officials and employees will also be perpetually disqualified to hold public office, from exercising right to vote, and to participate in any public election.

"Apart from improving trade facilitation and border protection, one of the main objectives of CMTA is to ingrain transparency and accountability into the Bureau. This law seeks to overhaul and modernize the BOC which, our investigations have shown, continues to be one of the most corrupt and underperforming government agencies in the country," the chairman of the ways and means committee said.

The law also mandates assessment officers to transfer ports every three years to avoid any collusion and complicity of BOC personnel.

The BOC is mandated to conduct a compensation study so as to develop and recommend to the President a competitive compensation and remuneration system.

"Kapag tinaasan natin ang sweldo ng mga empleyado ng BOC, tiyak na mas makaiiwas sila sa anumang uri ng korapsyon. But before we make any increase in their pay scale, there should be improved qualification and performance benchmarks in place to professionalize its ranks," the senator said.

The CMTA primarily seeks to implement full automation of customs procedures that would facilitate ease of doing business, and to streamline customs valuation and inspection procedures to make them more transparent.

The passage of the law, which further raised the tax exemption of balikbayan boxes, was prioritized by Angara after the reported tampering of balikbayan boxes that sparked outrage among overseas Filipino workers and their families.

"With the computerization of the BOC, less human contact would be required. We want to minimize the discretion of officials in order to eliminate the alleged rampant corrupt practices in the bureau," he said.

Source: Senate of the Philippines

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