February 7, 2012

WHAT'S ON MY SHELF: Inside the Lion's Den

CUSTOMS is a major and basic part of travel -- across all nations.

[It] Is an authority or agency in a country responsible for collecting and safeguarding customs duties and for controlling the flow of goods including animals, transports, personal effects and hazardous items in and out of a country. – Wikipedia

Those checkpoint counters at the airport where you submit your customs declaration card. - Tourist

Most corrupt government agency. – Ordinary Filipino Citizen

The Wild, Wild West of government, a den of thieves, a snake pit and a Lion’s den… but there is a lot more to this agency than what many people really know. – Angelito Alvarez, 34th Commissioner, Bureau of Customs


In the Philippines, Inside the Lion's Den gives you an inside look into Philippine customs. This book is a documentary journey of an award winning full time documentary photographer- Jes Aznar  , an award winning Manila based journalist and blogger- Iris Gonzales and edited by one of the country’s online journalism innovators Michael Marasigan.

This collection of superb images with biting essays offers an inside look on the daily lives of the extraordinary and hardworking men and women who works day by day and carries the stigma that is associated with the Bureau as not many people know exactly how the agency works. While graft and corruption is a reality, “it is not the only thing that defines the bureau,” says Commissioner Alvarez in the books’ foreword. To him, the book is about “ordinary Filipino’s occupying an extraordinary place in government service.”

It is Alvarez that granted the team full access to the agency’s operations including the different collection districts, ports and distant sub-ports in the Philippine archipelago.

The images in this book tell a story of the difficulties and hardships these men and women are faced with every day as they try to do their work efficiently with the very best intentions. Images that capture
the daily activities in the bureau and ports which ordinary citizen like us might never get to see.

A man in his 50’s is in charge of checking goods in a warehouse with almost no ventilation. He has asthma. A boarding officer drives a beat-up car and holds office in a borrowed container van in a middle of a muddy parking lot. An elderly employee has not received overtime pay for several months already. – except from the introduction by Iris Gonzales

The essays on the other hand offer a history on the bureau and the collection districts. It also does not shy away from exposing the rampant smuggling, corruption, the people who compromise the agency and the reform measures being taken.

Published in the Philippines by Europa PR with photo editing by veteran photojournalist Sonny Yabao, the book offers a never before seen, never before discussed insights to life inside an environment that struggles to improve.

Indeed, this is a journalistic aspiration fueled by curiosity and driven by a desire to recount something valuable in a society struggling to exist with purpose.

You can get your copy at major bookstores nationwide and at Bookay-Ukay Bookstore, Maginhawa Street, Teacher’s Village, Quezon City

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