Amid accusations that he cheated in golf and questions about his honesty as a public servant, new Customs
Commissioner Angelito Alvarez warned that he would go after name-droppers and influence peddlers in his effort to clean up
The public skepticism that greeted the warning was expected, considering that similar promises have
been made by every new Customs chief. And yet little has changed in the way the Bureau of Customs is perceived by the public,
as reflected in surveys: the BOC always competes with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Department of Public Works and
Highways as the most corrupt government agency.
Every administration in the recent past has had its personalities linked to those in power who were
untouchables in smuggling operations. Everything has been brought into this country with Customs authorities looking the other
way: sardines and dressed chicken, fuel and motorcycles, and even drugs and guns. Will it be any different under the new administration?
Smuggling has long been a complaint of legitimate businessmen in this country. Cheap smuggled goods
pose unfair competition. Smuggled agricultural products endanger the livelihoods of farmers. Previous administrations have
repeatedly made noises about clamping down on smuggling. But the exemption, for whatever reason, of even one influential relative
or crony from tariff requirements always served as a signal to the Customs rank and file that promises made about cleaning
up the bureau were nothing but rhetoric.
Previous administrations, frustrated over the failure to clean up Customs, created special units outside
the bureau to go after smugglers, including their coddlers in the BOC. But officials of both Customs and the special unit
usually ended up accusing each other of protecting their own smugglers.
At his inaugural, President Aquino promised to lead by example, kicking it off by eschewing some of
the trappings of power including the use of sirens and blinkers. If none of his relatives and friends will get special treatment
at Customs for a convincing length of time, it would be a major achievement. And if that example is followed by other top
government and Customs officials, public skepticism of reforms in the bureau will finally be overcome.