True Reformer: In Defense of Customs Commissioner Jagger Guerrero
If one is generous, then one might consider the anti-corruption record of the Duterte administration as “mixed”. The frigate scandal, Pharmally, the leak-prone ‘ayuda’, the retraining of government appointees accused of corruption and the ‘Build, Build, Build’ scheme are among the key examples raising doubts about the anti-corruption campaign of the past six years.
Perhaps a shining area of effective anti-corruption and reform work that is evidence-based and systems-focused (as opposed to appointee-focused) is that of Commissioner Rey “Jagger” Guerrero and his reform team at the Bureau of Customs (BOC). Although Commissioner Jagger and his team have recently been the target of corruption allegations, this contradicts the view generally held by reform actors – including academic and international development partners – that Commissioner Jagger is a right arrow and a true reformer.
In 2014, during the Aquino administration, we wrote an article in defense of “a few good men” pushing for customs reform. This time we write this to do the same thing: stand up for reformers and reformists. We cannot praise the other Duterte appointees; but as far as Commissioner Jagger is concerned, we believe that he has encouraged good governance in an agency which now functions better thanks to his reform programmes, which have been implemented in partnership with many reform partners.
Early indicators of reform momentum. Commissioner Jagger’s “BOC Transformation Agenda” has been well received by development partners like the World Bank, and stakeholders are observing that it has produced results and benefits not only in terms of increased revenues of the BOC, but also in terms of better trade facilitation. Here we highlight a number of key reforms implemented under his administration.
The implementation of the fuel tagging program in 2019 enabled proper tracking and reporting of oil import volumes. Moreover, the TRAIN law enabled the BOC to collect additional revenue of 24.2 billion pesos in 2020. grow, ending with an all-time high of 201.2 billion pesos.
Trade facilitation has also improved in various ports and sub-ports. Based on the 2021 UN Global Survey, the Philippines scored 86% on Trade Facilitation, a significant improvement from 65.6% and 69.9% in 2015 and 2017. respectively.
BOC also embraced the use of data analytics to monitor and audit import transactions by partnering with the Ateneo School of Government in March 2020. Anchored on operational requirements, the partnership generated the “BOC Governance Tool Suite” (BOC-GTS), consisting of three governance tools that were delivered to the agency in October 2020.
What is evidence-based, systems-oriented reform? The BOC-GTS is a set of data-driven, reform-oriented governance tools designed to help the agency operate more efficiently and improve tax collection efforts.
Since revenue is largely driven by the country’s import volume, BOC needed to forecast revenue based on prevailing macroeconomic conditions. Thus, Governance Tool #1 was developed as an income forecasting model using the marginal propensity to import which is defined as the increase in demand for imports relative to one percentage point of nominal gross domestic product .
With 4 million import transactions processed annually at over 40 ports and sub-ports, BOC needed better monitoring for each entry point. Governance Tool #2 provides the agency with detailed information on the main revenue-generating import products, their
assessment and tax profiles. This helps BOC leaders and port managers manage import revenues and activities, especially during times of global and national shocks, such as changes in world oil and food prices.
To detect transaction-level anomalies, Governance Tool #3 was designed to flag transactions that violate thresholds set by BOC officials.
Overall, this model of transparency and citizen participation in governance seems rare in our public sector – and we should encourage and develop it when and where we find it. The way forward for BOC is much more promising because of the reform programs implemented by the Jagger Commission and his colleagues. If we want continuity in the reforms, we must better appreciate what has been built and, in addition, invest in the additional works necessary to guarantee and maintain good governance.
Professor and Dean
Ateneo School of Government
Professor and Sean
Ateneo School of Government;
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