Monday, 21 April 2008

Ombudsman suspends 7 Customs officials

By Zaff Solmerin

THE Ombudsman has preventively suspended for at least six months seven erring officials from different offices of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the Department of Finance (DOF) for various offenses.

In a 13-page order, Ombudsman Maria Merceditas Gutierrez suspended Gregorio Magat, customs operations officer V, assigned at the BOC-Manila, and his wife, Nieves, executive assistant IV of the Department of Finance; and Victor Barros, special agent II, also assigned at the BOC, Port of Manila, for allegedly acquiring wealth which is disproportionate to their lawful income.

Also ordered suspended was deputy district collector Priscilla Cordova of the BOC, Port of Subic, for allegedly allowing the smuggling of 16 high-end luxury vehicles out of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone.

Likewise, Gutierrez also suspended Dionisito Valles, customs examiner; Nicolas Bejar, principal examiner; and Virgilio Vergara, principal appraiser, all of the Formal Entry Division of the BOC-Manila.

Gutierrez said the bases for the suspension of the Magat couple were “dishonesty, grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.”

Assistant Ombudsman Mark Jalandoni of the OMB Field Investigation Office (OMB-FIO) said, based on the investigation, Magat started his career in the government service as a Customs Bonded Warehouse inspector on April 19, 1976, with an annual salary of P6,552.

He rose through the ranks until he was appointed to his current post on March 18, 1992 with an annual salary of P230,016. His gross annual salary from 1992, to 2005 amounted to P2,376,770.

Magat’s wife joined public service on December 7, 1964, as steno-typist at the DOF.

At present, she holds the position of EA IV and receives an annual salary of P261,372. Based on her service record, her annual income from 1992 to 2005 is P2,698,186.

Jalandoni said further checks with the Civil Service Commission (CSC) and the OMB revealed that both agencies do not have a record of Magat’s Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Networth (SALN) from the start of his government service to 2005.

His wife, however, filed her SALNs for the years 1992, 1993 and 1995 to 2005.

In her SALN, Nieves declared that she had two houses and lots in Las Piñas City and a house and lot in Muntinlupa City; a Toyota Revo GLX (XPG-525), and an Isuzu Crosswind (XLX-825).

“Three other cars were declared in her SALNs, but verification with the LTO [Land Transportation Office] yielded negative results,” Jalandoni said.

He said records showed that there are other properties registered in the name of the couple, which were not declared in Nieves’s SALNs: a house and lot and a residential lot in Parañaque City and a house and lot in Ayala Alabang, Muntinlupa City, and a 2005 Isuzu Crosswind.

“We also discovered that the Magat couple has been the beneficial user of two houses in Parañaque City as evidenced by Meralco billings under Nieves’s name,” Jalandoni said.

Based on the National Statistics Office Index from 1992 to 2005, the total expenses incurred by respondents’ family during the said period amounted to P1,713,409.15.

Based on a complaint filed by the DOF-Revenue Integrity Protection Service, Barros only submitted his SALNs for the years 1981, 1988, 1992, 1994 to 1998 and from 2000 to 2004 on June 15, 2006.

Investigation revealed that respondent and his wife acquired a total of P10,703,000 worth of properties from 1981 to 2002, consisting of four houses and lots, eight cars, two parcels of land and two apartments.

Barros is only receiving at present an annual gross income of P125,304, while his wife has no declared fixed or regular income, according to the FIO’s report.

In the case of Cordova, the complaint against her was filed by by one Alonso Dominguez before the BOC, alleging that Cordova signed the papers for the release of the luxury vehicles which were consigned to Hidemitsu Trading Corp., although no payment of the appropriate taxes and duties have been made.

In a nine-page order, the Ombudsman ruled that “The accusatory allegations contained in the complaint constitute an act of Dishonesty and Grave Misconduct which, if proven true, could warrant her removal from government service.”

The Ombudsman also said the presence of Cordova’s name and signature in the certificates of payment for the vehicles “brings forth the prima facie presumption that she had deliberately made a misrepresentation by making it appear in the said certificates that the taxes due on the subject vehicles were paid when, in truth and in fact, it was not.”

In the cases of Valles, Bejar and Vergara, the complaint filed against them alleged that they conspired to release a shipment of 960 containers which were declared as “used-vehicle replacement parts.”

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