Graft Buster Quits in the Philippines in Blow to Aquino

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Philippine Customs Commissioner Sunny Sevilla said he resigned Wednesday, citing pressure to promote people without considering their merit. A replacement was identified Thursday.

“I’m feeling the political patronage” pressure, Sevilla said at a briefing in Manila on Thursday, without elaborating. “I hope the next commissioner will do a better job than me. The path of good governance is in deep danger in customs.”

Sevilla’s departure is a setback to President Benigno Aquino’s efforts to make a lasting dent in corruption before he steps down in June next year. Tasked by Aquino to clean up an agency known for graft, the former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. trader has reduced smuggling while raising revenue.

During his term, Sevilla investigated his staff, suspended permits of some companies and brokers, clamped down on the release of illegal rice shipments and set up a public price database of frequently imported goods to make it easier to spot irregularities.

Customs collection, which accounts for about 20 percent of government revenue, rose 21 percent last year. The agency’s 2015 collection target is not achievable due to lower oil prices and revenue will probably be little changed from last year, Sevilla said this week.

Alberto Lina, head of a logistics company in the Philippines, was named as Sevilla’s replacement, the bureau said in an e-mailed invitation to Friday’s handover ceremony. Lina was head of customs for several months in 2005 under then-president Gloria Arroyo. He didn’t reply to mobile-phone calls and text messages seeking comment.

“We are determined to pursue reforms in the Bureau of Customs and bring these to full fruition,” Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima said in an e-mailed statement. “The Bureau of Customs has come a long way since we initiated massive reforms in 2013, and while there is more work to be done, we are fully committed to finishing the fight we started.”

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