DAVAO City – I came early in the morning of September 21 at the Bureau of Customs District XII Office located at the Port of Davao, Barangay Sasa. This was my second time to be inside the compound of one of the most important revenue-raising agencies of the government. It is also perceived to be one of the most corrupt. (An insider told me their agency is in the fifth place.) I learned later that the District XII Office has consistently surpassed its collection targets for about 10 years in a row. Year-to-date collection level is already Php134 million above its full year target of about Php 5.2 billion. A great feat indeed, but not many people know or even care to know.
My first visit to Bureau of Customs’ District XII office was sometime in 1988. I was to pick up two boxes of used reference books donated by Oxfam-UK for our newly-established Halad Foundation, a voluntary organization for relief and rehabilitation of disaster victims. It was only two years since EDSA, so I thought that the culture of corruption disappeared with Marcos in Hawaii. But I was wrong. An overweight customs officer asked me to pay US$450 for the release of the books. I was surprised because our expatriate friends in Manila had already paid for the freight and other custom duties for the books. The officer said he made the computation based on the tag price of the books which were in US$ and UKpounds.
I do not have U$450, so I asked him to reconsider his computation. I insisted that those were used books donated by a charitable institution for charity purposes. Later he came back with a new computation of Php 450 which I immediately paid thinking it was a fair bargain. But on my way out, he brought me to a corner and handed me raffle tickets for a coronation event and whispered in the vernacular “donasyon po Sir para sa anak ko na kandidata.”
My second visit would be different, I thought. I was not there to get a package. I was there to interview retired Brig. General Danilo Lim, the newly appointed Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence who was to fly from Manila to Davao that day for an unspecified mission. Our Gold Star Daily publisher Mr. Ernesto Chu called me up a day earlier to secure an interview with one of the most decorated and colorful generals in the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
A few years ago General Danilo Lim refused to be used as pawn by some politicians in the game called high corruption. He chose incarceration rather than tarnish the honor of his name and his command. He is among the few men in uniform who have the guts to spill the beans, so to speak against the excesses of their high command, much more against their commander-in-chief.
There were no big billboards and tarpaulins announcing the visit of the number 2 guy of the Bureau of Customs. There were no banquet preparations either. Instead, the people at the lobby of the main building were preparing for the 11:00 a.m. Wednesday Novena Mass for office employees. It appears that only a few officials in the bureau knew that he is coming over. General Danilo Lim sent me a text message confirming the date and time of his arrival and asked me to meet him at the customs office.
While waiting for his arrival from the airport, I decided to attend the Mass at the lobby of the Customs Office. I don’t know if it was providential or not, but the Gospel of the day was about St. Matthew, the tax collector who later became an Evangelist and whose house was visited by Jesus to the dismay of the Jews. For them tax collectors are sinners because they enrich themselves for their Roman masters. This is very much like how most people today view custom collectors and BIR examiners. But of course the end of the Gospel spoke of Jesus’ mission of saving not just the good ones but also the sinners. A sigh of relief seems to reverberate on the walls of the lobby.
A few minutes after the mass, a convoy of five cars entered the gate of the customs office. Excitement grew when the bespectacled General Lim wearing his signature immaculate white short-sleeve polo shirt alighted from the black Toyota Land Cruiser. He was led to the office by the out-going customs collector. Later in the afternoon, we joined him to the container yard to open 17 confiscated vans full of smuggled cargoes of premium rice and assorted personal goods from Taiwan and the US. That was a good “buena mano” for Commissioner Lim and his local team at the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Section. That morning’s “catch” was Php 21 million-worth of misdeclared goods.
Kudos to Deputy Commissioner Danilo Lim and his local team. Good luck also to incoming district customs collector Atty. Martiniano Bangcoy who promised a “new beginning” for the entire bureau of customs family in Davao. We will be counting on you Sirs!
(This article first appeared on September 24, 2011 in Emmanuel Roldan’s column Davao’s Peak at Mindanao Gold Star Daily (www.goldstardailynews.com) The author can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
About Emmanuel Roldan:
Emi is my kababayan from Padada, Davao del Sur. We went to the same high school and were altar boys and choir members in our parish church. Today, Emi is a news editor/columnist of the Mindanao Gold Star Daily – a member of the Sunstar Group. Aside from being a journalist, he is also a development worker and a human rights advocate having served in various organizations engaged in human rights protection and development work. At work and at play, Emi was able to nurture his childhood love for music. He still plays mean tunes on his guitar and sings very well.