Duterte: Military to take over Customs

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President Rodrigo Roa Duterte speaks at the Asia-Pacific Healthy Islands Conference 2018.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 29) — President Rodrigo Duterte on Sunday said the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will take over the Bureau of Customs (BOC), as all employees of the agency are on a floating status.

"I'd like to put on notice, everybody in the Bureau of Customs, they are all [on] floating status, they can maybe start again working, but as I said said they are [on] floating status," Duterte said in his speech during the birthday celebration of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Cayetano in Davao City.

"They will be replaced, all of them, by military men. It will be a takeover of the armed forces in the matter of operating in the mean time while we are sorting out how to effectively meet the challenges of corruption in this country," he added.

Duterte said he had asked Customs chief Rey Leonardo Guerrero to request for the training of technical personnel of the Army and the Coast Guard on how to use the x-ray machines in the bureau.

"I call Jagger (Guererro) and said you might want to talk to your boss, Finance secretary, ask him if the guys who supplied the X-ray can send a representative here to teach our technical men in the armed forces," he said.

The President said he will issue a memorandum requiring all Customs employees to report directly to him.

"The Customs intelligence unit, they are to report to Malacañang, all of them. I'm ordering everybody to report to my office. Maybe I'll issue the memorandum, I have yet to sign it. They will hold office there at the Malacañang Gymnasium. Lahat," he said.

Duterte said he cannot immediately dismiss everyone working at the bureau as he wants to follow the law.

"That's the reason why we cannot just dismiss them. Almost all of them there have been charged of corruption, lahat yan sila may kaso and yet we cannot just move on because we want to be lawfully correct. Dahan-dahan lang tayo," he said.

"But with this kind of dirty games that they're playing I'm forced now to ask the armed forces to take over," he added.

The organizational shakeup, Duterte explained, is in line with his declaration of a state of lawlessness in the country during the early part of his term as the president.

"Remember I have issued, during the first days of my term, this is the declaration of lawlessness. Part of the lawless elements is there inside the Bureau of Customs," he said.

Duterte first revealed his plan for military men to take over Customs on Saturday.

Duterte ordered Guerrero, also the former head of the Armed Forces, to suspend all Customs employees.

"Sinabi ko, 'Paalisin mo lahat. Lahat ng trabahante ilagay mo sa isang kwarto. Tawagan mo 'yung Coast Guard pati 'yung technical ng Army. 'Yan ang gamitin mo ngayon. Lahat paalisin mo," he said in a speech during Masskara Festival in Bacolod.

Duterte added, "Ngayon, lahat ng empleyado sa gobyerno, they are suspended. Sabi ko kay Jagger (Guerrero), 'Linisin mo. Paalisin mo lahat kung paalisin mo. Sundalo muna ang padalhin mo." p***** i**** 'yan. Iyan ang mangyari diyan."

Duterte's spokesman said it is within the President's power to control the Customs, as he is the head of state and commander in chief.

"He has control over all executive offices, and Customs is one of them," Sal Panelo said in a media briefing on Monday.

He assured Customs operations will not suffer during the turnover and adjustment period, especially considering it is holiday season and many Christmas packages are expected to enter the country.

Panelo and the Armed Forces also assured Filipinos that the military takeover will be temporary, with the Presidential Spokesperson saying the bureau will be run by military men "until the President is satisfied."

AFP ready for BOC task

AFP Chief of Staff General Carlito Galvez, Jr. has ordered his officers to immediately form a contingent composed of Air Force, Army, and Navy/Marine personnel. AFP said, considering the enormity of the challenge in Customs, the personnel to be deployed should have unquestionable integrity.

"We will provide him the personnel he needs to accomplish his very important and consequential mission... We're in extraordinary times and this would require extraordinary contingency measures and approaches," said AFP spokesperson Brigadier General Edgard Arevalo.

He added the qualifications of the AFP personnel who will be sent to serve the Customs will be a "primordial concern."

Arevalo also said the military's deployment in the bureau will be within the bounds of the law.

"These are contingent requirements and the Armed Forces of the Philippines is designed to address contingencies. So kung meron tayong pangangailangan in other fields, which we are, which are considered, our primary function, we are going to function as we are, still functioning. Sabi nga natin kailangan ang tulong natin we are going to support other agencies of government," he said.

This development comes amid the controversies hounding the BOC regarding the multi-billion peso worth of illegal drugs that slipped into the country last month.

Authorities in August found magnetic lifters in Cavite believed to have contained shabu worth P11 billion. This happened just after 500 kilograms of shabu were intercepted in two other magnetic lifters at the Manila International Container Port.

Duterte last week replaced Isidro Lapeña as the head of the bureau amid controversies over shabu worth billions of pesos that slipped past the agency under his watch. The President assigned him to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority. Guerrero, formerly a Maritime Industry Authority administrator and Armed Forces Chief of Staff, took over the position.