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By Grace M. Pulido Tan

Grace M. Pulido Tan

In the early 2000’s, I served as Undersecretary of Finance (for Revenue Operations), with oversight of the Bureau of Customs among my main tasks. Then as now, meeting revenue targets was an overriding goal, and it was my duty to monitor, as well as coordinate with senior officials on the matter. They were pretty much left to their own devices but being the hands-on taskmaster that I was, I made it my business to inquire on their action plans.

It was during this time that I first learned of the “tara” system. Quite casually, in fact, when one official cavalierly mentioned that they would ask port collectors to lower their “tara” so the targets could be met. Whaaat? Was this actually happening, with full knowledge of senior officials, and accepted as a reality of the trade? What a pathetic rip-off!

My fangs readily appeared, my eyes glared in utter disbelief. But I had to find enough bearing – perhaps, audacity or temerity, depending on whose point of view – to tell the throng of old hands and seasoned bureaucrats that the practice should be stopped. Government, I said, should not be left with crumbs: It was entitled to all the customs duties and fees that was due under the law, and it was their sworn duty to collect these faithfully and well.

The continuing Senate inquiry on the billion-peso drug shipment makes me shudder at the direct and unequivocal admissions that the “tara” system is (still) very much alive and kicking. I had no illusions while at the DOF that it would be immediately stopped, considering that even then, the system had long been well entrenched and political figures were said to have been major players in the game. But we had to start somewhere and somehow, and in fairness to the Customs leadership during my time, I know it did what it could.

As in many other cases of rip-off, however, citizen awareness and pressure are necessary to address and exact accountabity for the “tara” system. Now that a self-avowed player has ratted – in graphic detail – on this wicked practice, and the Bureau of Customs is once again in the center of public attention, could “tara” be finally exorcised? Or will it simply fade away as just another conversation piece? What will it take to stoke sufficient moral outrage that will lead to meaningful change?

This brings to mind a recent experience with a go-to bulk supermarket for imported groceries, where a slab of salmon my daughters purchased turned considerably less in weight than what was stated on the price tag, and several bottles of beverage labeled on sale were rung up at the original price nevertheless. Of course, they were outraged; one took the time to complain and risked the unpleasantness of a confrontation. The store owned up. But what about those who did not; how much profit from this sort of rip-off add up to every day?

That is the bottomline on the “tara”: Take the time and the discomfort to speak up against it, its players, its patrons, its beneficiaries. One voice is never too inconsequential. In due time, it will be heard.

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