Even as the Bureau of Customs celebrates its 117th year anniversary today, its task of overseeing trade in the country dates back to even before the Spaniards landed on Philippine shores.

Hundreds of years ago, however, the Philippine Custom Service had already been flourishing under trade with neighboring countries. Historical records show that the service started long before the country was discovered by the eastern and western expeditionaries. As the people of the time still lacked a standard medium of exchange, people were using a barter system of commodities in business.

The practice of collecting tributes started from there. The rulers of the barangays, called datus and rajahs, collected tributes from merchants before they were allowed to engage in their trade, and eventually the practice became part of early Philippine culture and was then observed and followed as the Customs Law of the Land.

When Spain came into the country and took control of almost all the trades, it introduced three important changes to Philippine customs: the Spanish Customs Law, which enforced the concept of ad valorem levies on import and export; a Tariff Board was established which drew up a tariff of fixed values for all imported articles on which ten percent ad valorem duty was uniformly collected; and a Tariff Law which established the specific duties on all imports and on certain exports and this lasted till the end of the Spanish rule in the Philippines.

The Spanish Tariff Code continued to be enforced even the Americans came to the country. It remained in effect until the Philippine Commission enacted the Tariff Revision Law of 1901.

On Oct. 24, 1900, the Philippine Commission passed Act No. 33 abolishing and changing the position of Captain of the Port to Collector of Customs in all ports of entry except the Port of Manila. The designation of the Captain of the Port in the Port of Manila was retained.

More changes came when the Civil Government was established in the Philippines. The Philippine Commission passed laws such as the Tariff Revision Law of 1902 based on the theory that the laws of Spain were not as comprehensive as the American Customs Laws to conform with the existing conditions of the country; Philippine Administrative Act No. 355, and its follow-up the Customs Service Act No. 355, called the Philippine Customs Service Act. After several modifications and amendments, the Philippine Customs Service finally became a practical counterpart of the American Customs Service.

When the Department of Justice became a separate office from the Department of Finance, the Customs Service remained under the umbrella of the latter. It remains under the Department of Finance until now.

After the Commonwealth Government was established in the country, the Philippine Legislature enacted Commonwealth Act No. 613 forming the Bureau of Immigration as a separate office from the Bureau of Customs. In 1957, Congress enacted the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines known as Republic Act No. 1937, otherwise known as the “Tariff Law of the Republic of the Philippines”, the first official expression of an autonomous Philippine Tariff Policy.

Prior to its passage, all importations from the United States enjoyed full exemptions pursuant to the Tariff Act No. 1902 which was adopted by Republic Act No. 3 as the Tariff Laws of the Philippines.

On Oct. 27, 1972, President Ferdinand E. Marcos signed Presidential Decree No. 34 amending the Tariff & Customs Code of the Philippines. On June 11, 1978, the Tariff & Customs Code was further amended, modified and supplemented by new positions to make it a more responsive code in keeping with the developmental programs of the New Society. 

With the accession of the Philippines to the Customs Co-Operation Council (CCC), the Tariff & Customs Code has to be revised anew in order to align our tariff system with the CCC Nomenclature, and the result is the presently enforced Tariff & Customs Code of 1982, revised by virtue of Executive Order No. 688. This new Code also assimilated various amendments to the Customs Code under P.D. 1628 & 1980 as well as reprints of the tariff concessions under the General Agreement on Tariff Multilateral Agreement Negotiations as provided in Executive Order No. 578, series of 1980, and the tariff concessions granted to ASEAN member countries as embodied in various Executive Orders from 1978 to 1981.

The last major reorganization of the Bureau took place in 1986 after the EDSA Revolution with the issuance of Executive Order No. 127 which expanded the organization umbrella of the Central Office by providing offices that will monitor and coordinate assessment and operations of the Bureau and provided for a staff of about 5,500 customs personnel.

The implementation of the computerization program also necessitated the creation of a new Group to ensure its continuous development and progress. The creation of the Management Information System and Technology Group (MISTG) under a new Deputy Commissioner with 92 positions was authorized under Executive Order No. 463 dated Jan. 9, 1998.

Today, the Bureau of Customs is mandated to facilitating trade according to international standards, protect the country from smuggling and customs fraud, increase the revenues of the government, and bring a sense of professionalism to commerce in the country. As of 2018, the Bureau achieved its target revenues for the year, posting P585.542 billion in collections based on preliminary data from the agency’s Financial Service.

With so many years of restructuring, the Bureau of Customs stands as one of the Philippines’ most resilient and venerable institutions — a long history of change in the organization’s commitment to pursue a more modernized and more credible administration that can stand among the world’s best and that every Filipino can be proud of. — Bjorn Biel M. Beltran