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The ‘untouchable’ Angelito Alvarez

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The scandal that erupted under the watchful eye of Bureau of Customs Commissioner Angelito “Joselito” Alvarez has created a maelstrom of controversy calling for an investigation and dismissal of Alvarez. But, strangely, Malacañang doesn’t seem to know – or chose not to know – what’s going on at the Bureau of Customs since January 2011 when the first container van was reported missing.  By last count, 1,910 container vans vanished into thin air without a trace.  Did a UFO the size of a baseball field and as high as a five-story building scoop them up and take them to Jupiter? Or was it the handiwork of smugglers protected by powerful politicians and Customs officials?

Assuming that the “vanishing act” was the handiwork of smugglers – or “players” in Customs lingo – then why is it that nobody in the Aquino administration is concerned about it?  In fact, President Benigno “P-Noy” Aquino III’s silence is so deafening that many have started to think that behind his “honest and incorruptible” façade is just another traditional politician or “trapo” whose campaign promise of “Walang corrupt, walang mahirap” was a cheap slogan to get votes. 

For the past seven months, calls for Alvarez’s resignation reached P-Noy.  But P-Noy silently stood by his man.  Why?  To answer that question, we must first ask…

*Who is Angelito Alvarez?

Alvarez has never worked for the government before. Early in his career, he worked for the accounting and auditing firm of SyCip Gorres Velayo & Co. (SGV).  It was at SGV where Alvarez and Cesar Purisima met. After a short stint of five years Alvarez left SGV and went to work for the Lina Group of Companies (LGC), which is owned by Alberto “Bert” Lina. Alvarez moved up the executive ladder fast. He became president of several LGC companies including Air Freight 2100. He also took charge of managing the company’s basketball team, Air21. After 20 years with LGC, he left the company to work on the other side of the fence – the Bureau of Customs. It was widely believed that it was Purisima, his old boss at SGV, who recommended him to P-Noy for the Customs job.

*Connections, connections…

P-Noy appointed Alvarez to the much-coveted position of Bureau of Customs Commissioner, the second highest revenue-producing bureau in government. It is also one of the most -- if not the most – corrupt bureaus. Alvarez’s marching orders were: Meet revenue goals, identify smugglers, and work closely with the Bureau of Internal Revenue to prevent tax leakages.  And in a display of raw bravura, he boasted to reveal the names of “big fishes” every single week!

In July 2010, his new boss – and good old friend – Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima swore in Alvarez.  Interestingly, Purisima, who was one of P-Noy’s ardent supporters during the 2010 presidential election, shelled out P10 million of his own money into P-Noy’s war chest.  He was one of the so-called “Hyatt 10,” a group of Cabinet members and high-ranking officials who resigned from their positions in July 2005 and demanded that then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo resign in the aftermath of the “Hello Garci” election cheating scandal.

It is interesting to note that Alvarez’s old boss at LGC, Bert Lina, was a former Customs Commissioner himself.  And like Purisima, Lina was also one of the “Hyatt 10.” Lina also happens to be the brother of former Laguna governor Jose “Joey” Lina Jr. In 2010, Joey ran unsuccessfully for another term as governor of Laguna under the banner of P-Noy’s Liberal Party.  

After Alvarez took over Customs, Ted Failon interviewed him in his radio show, “Failon at Sanchez.” Alvarez told Failon the reason why he was appointed to the plum position was because of his experience in the industry.  He said that he was a “close associate” of Bert Lina, who has a “very serious and deep involvement in the customs and freight business.”     

Alvarez also told Failon that he knows the “ins and outs” of the customs industry.  He also admitted that he knows the “unscrupulous practices” of people inside the Bureau of Customs, and who the big-time smugglers, brokers and corrupt Customs officials are.

*Questions, questions…

But if Alvarez truly knows the “ins and outs” and who the big-time smugglers, brokers, and corrupt Customs officials are, how come the Bureau of Customs remains a smugglers’ paradise and corrupt Customs officials remain untouchable?  And how come Alvarez is still at his job, secure – and impregnable -- as the Rock of Gibraltar?  The buzz that’s going around Manila these days is: Who is protecting Alvarez that even P-Noy can’t touch him?  

One year after he took over the graft-ridden bureau, Alvarez has yet to meet his revenue goals and has yet to expose a single “big fish.”   By now he should already have exposed 52 “big fishes.”

Last March 8, 2011, an editorial by a Manila-based newspaper asked, “What does Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez and former Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina have in common?”  The editorial then said, “The three share seats in the board of many companies they mutually own and a source said the trio now lords its over at the Bureau of Customs.”

The editorial says that the “source” provided the newspaper with “documents showing the interlocking interests of the three in at least five companies said Purisima, Alvarez and Lina now virtually control the Bureau of Customs and have made the agency ‘their own business operations.’ ”  The documents mentioned the names of the businesses including their percentages of ownership in these businesses.

*Double standard

Malacañang immediately responded that the newspaper should substantiate the “anomaly” with a formal complaint. Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said, “If that’s the case, if there’s a complaint, of course, we will look into. If there really is a complaint to that effect, let us know because we cannot rely on innuendoes and rumors. So if there’s someone who’s going to lodge a complaint, we will study that just to be fair to the officials concerned.” 

I find it quite strange that if the persons involved in an “anomaly” were allies of P-Noy, Malacañang would be quick to defend them.  

Mr. President, you exhorted your appointees to walk a “matuwid na daan” (straight path) in the performance of their jobs.  But in fairness to all your appointees – many of who are honest and incorruptible -- you should not turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to what’s happening around you.  You cannot just shrug off 1,910 missing container vans as mere innuendo or rumor.  Even Alvarez admitted they’re missing.  And if he cannot explain why 1,910 container vans are missing, then he is not up to the job you appointed him to.  Simply put, he doesn’t have the competence required by the job.

It’s time Mr. President to let Alvarez go.

By Perry Diaz




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