BOC files charges vs rice importers over 'agri smuggling'

Photo courtesy of Bureau of Customs
Photo courtesy of Bureau of Customs

THE Bureau of Customs (BOC) has filed charges of agricultural smuggling against the importers of the 202,000 sacks of imported rice grains found during a raid in three warehouses in Bulacan in August 2023.

In a media forum on Saturday, September 30, BOC Legal Service acting director Attorney William Balayo said four cases in which three for economic sabotage were filed against the four rice importers.

He said that one case was unable to meet the P10-million threshold and was downgraded to a violation of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA), even though it also involved agricultural product smuggling, specifically rice.

“Ang particular factual backdrop po nito, ito po iyong mga ni-raid noong August 24 sa Bulacan and pardon me po kung hindi ko mapapangalanan iyong mga akusado. Nonetheless po, we are happy to state that ito pong pinaylan (file) po namin ng cases. Tatlo po dito ay iyong economic sabotage,” Balayo  said.

(The particular factual backdrop of this, these are the ones that were raided on August 24 in Bulacan, and pardon me if I cannot name the accused. Nonetheless, we are happy to state that we have filed cases for this. Three of them are for economic sabotage.)

The said raided facilities were the Great Harvest Rice Mill Warehouse, San Pedro Warehouse, and FS Rice Mill Warehouse located inside the Intercity Industrial Complex (IIC) in Barangay San Juan, Balagtas, Bulacan.

The discovered sacks of rice, which reportedly came from Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, were worth around P505 million.

Meanwhile, Marlon Agaceta, chief of staff of the customs commissioner, said there are four pending letters of authority (LOA) implemented against four warehouses—the Gold Rush Rice Mill and another warehouse also in IIC in Balagtas town and the JJS Rice Mill and Gold Rush Rice Mill 2 both in Wakas, Bocaue, Bulacan.

He said the deadline for the two importers to submit the corresponding import documents demonstrating the legality of their importation and proof of correct duties and taxes payment had expired on Friday, September 29. Meanwhile, the two other warehouses still have two more days to submit the necessary documents to prove the legitimacy of their operations.

Under the CMTA, importers are given 15 days to present proof of payment of duties and taxes through hearings before imported goods are seized if there is a violation on the side of the importer.

The BOC stated that a case build-up is still underway for the filing of charges against smugglers in Zamboanga City, where over 42,000 sacks of smuggled rice were confiscated and subsequently donated to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

The series of operations conducted by the BOC followed President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr.'s order to intensify efforts against rice smuggling and hoarding, which is believed to be responsible for the surge in rice prices.

This has also prompted Marcos to impose a mandatory price cap of P41 per kilogram on regular-milled rice and P45 per kilogram on well-milled rice.  (SunStar Philippines)


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