Manila – Despite government efforts to institute reforms in the Bureau of Customs, the “3 o’clock habit” or practice of collecting and distributing bribe money to corrupt among the bureau’s personnel remained unabated, Senator Panfilo Lacson said on Thursday.
Lacson told a weekly forum at the Senate that the distribution of “tara” or bribe to Customs employees was still being held at 3 o’clock every Friday afternoon when employees gathered in the Customs zone.
“The practice persists until now. I don’t know why,” Lacson said.
He said he had discussed the matter with former Commissioner Lito Alvarez, and that Alvarez had told him that he was initiating reforms in the Bureau but the 3 p.m. habit had yet to be addressed.
Lacson said the bribe money could amount to “billions,” and that the money was being collected from importers or their brokers.
“This involves large amounts of money and they are given according to rank,” Lacson said.
“I don’t know how high the bribe goes, but it used to be organized in a way that even the top officials, including the commissioner, are given their share.”
“The bribe is distributed on top of what should be paid as Customs duties.”
Lacson however, said he was sure that Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon was not involved in the 3 o’clock habit.
“I trust Commissioner Biazon,” he said.
“I know him personally and I know that he will not condone organized corruption. I know he’s trying his best to stop it.”
But Lacson said that if you were new in the job as Customs commissioner, the “old timers” in the bureau would test your mettle. Biazon needed a “strong political will” to implement reforms in his agency.
Lacson also appealed to authorities to summon a Vicente “Bong” Cuevas for formal investigation on the issue of the smuggled rice. Reports said Cuevas allegedly boasted that he could facilitate the release of an import permit within six to seven days after the 430,000 sacks of smuggled rice were unloaded.
“If he has been identified, he should be summoned for a formal investigation,” Lacson said.
Lacson said Cuevas might have also been involved in smuggling during the past administrations.
“Involvement per se is not illegal, but his name has consistently cropped up in several issues, so I became curious,” he said.
Customs agents seized the rice shipment worth P500 million for lack of an import permit from the National Food Authority and had it stored in the Subic port.