Government urged to strengthen drive vs rice smuggling-A A +A
Sunday, February 2, 2014
SENATOR Ferdinand Marcos Jr. urged the government on Sunday to protect the country’s farmers from influx of illegal rice shipments.
Marcos aired this call after Bureau of Customs (BOC) officials bared in a Senate hearing of the ways and means committee that as much as 50,000 metric tons of rice monthly may have been smuggled into the country last year.
In an earlier hearing of the Senate agriculture committee, BOC officials reported that they seized almost 2,000 container vans of smuggled rice last year but some were released due to some questionable court orders.
“It is good to know that Customs officials are doing something to stop the influx of illegal rice shipments and the modus operandi of these smugglers,” Marcos said.
“Unfortunately, unless the government can put a serious dent on rice smuggling operations, perception will persist that rice smugglers are in cahoots with corrupt officials from the BOC and other concerned agencies such as the NFA (National Food Authority),” he added.
Marcos said the BOC should hold on to seized rice shipments that were subject of questionable injunctions issued by various regional trial courts. He said the Office of the Solicitor General has already appealed the injunctions.
The senator said the BOC can justify its action with the Supreme Court ruling, cited by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, that jurisdiction over items seized by the bureau belongs to the Customs commissioner and not with the trial court.
But Marcos said the Department of Justice (DOJ) should also come out as soon as possible with a definitive legal opinion not only on the issue of jurisdiction but also whether the Philippines can still impose rice importation quotas.
“I have to echo on the necessity of an opinion from the DOJ because napapaikutan tayo rito dahil clearly they are hiding behind these gray areas and we are putting the BOC in a very difficult situation,” he said.
BOC traced its legal woes to a Davao Regional Trial Court (RTC) ruling, which said that since the special treatment the World Trade Organization gave the Philippines to restrict rice imports expired in June 2012 importers can bring in rice to the country even without permit.
This decision was adopted by courts in Manila and Batangas in ordering the release of suspected illegal rice shipments the BOC seized.
Customs Commissioner John Philip Sevilla also said that in the case of 50 containers of rice seized in the Port of Batangas, the injunction was issued even before the arrival of the rice shipment.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is currently probing the rice smuggling activities of a certain David Tan, whose real identity is allegedly Davidson Bangayan. The businessman has since denied the allegation.
Reports said the government lost P7 billion in revenue from Tan’s illegal transactions alone in recent years.
Meanwhile, Senator Cynthia Villar will continue on Monday the agriculture committee’s hearing on rice smuggling.
Expected to return for the legislative inquiry are Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Orlan Calayag, De Lima, Sevilla and Bangayan.
Invited as resource persons as well are Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director Virgilio Mendez, Solicitor General Francis Jardeleza and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who recently drew flak from the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for threatening smugglers with death.
De Lima and Duterte also had a verbal tussle after he asked the Justice chief to quit from her post for not filing cases against smugglers.
De Lima said the DOJ is doing its best to build an airtight case, especially against Bangayan.
“Mayor Duterte will be present (at the hearing) to detail the alleged rice smuggling in Davao,” said Villar in a radio interview.
The hearing will start at 10 a.m. at the Senate session hall. (Camille P. Balagtas/Virgil Lopez/Sunnex)