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Philippine Customs Is Getting Scared Straight

A former Goldman trader fights to eradicate corruption
Sevilla inspects smuggled used clothing at the port of Cebu
Sevilla inspects smuggled used clothing at the port of CebuPhotograph by Bureau of Customs

Jamail Marohomsalic, a Bureau of Customs official in the southern Philippine city of Davao, shuffles his feet and bows his head when his boss tells him he’s being investigated as part of an anticorruption drive. “That’s your signature, right?” demands Commissioner John “Sunny” Sevilla, pointing to a form that allowed the release of 20,000 tons of imported plastic resin priced at 29 percent less than the government’s benchmark. Marohomsalic, who denies any wrongdoing and says the shipments had been cleared by the bureau, is surrounded by colleagues from the Davao customs office as Sevilla continues: “This is not just against you. I’ve initiated an investigation into every employee who’s violated our rules.”

Sevilla, 45, is the third customs commissioner appointed to fight graft since President Benigno Aquino III took office in June 2010. A former Goldman Sachs trader in Hong Kong, Sevilla is turning his analytical skills to spotting anomalies in imports and chasing smugglers who Aquino says cost the government more than 200 billion pesos ($4.6 billion) a year. Sevilla took office in December; the bureau’s revenue from import duties has risen 20 percent from a year earlier.