MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Bureau of Customs filed before the Department of Justice on Thursday, February 6 smuggling charges against officials of a cooperative for the illegal importation of 28,000 sacks of rice worth P34 million.
The latest filing comes amid a Senate inquiry into massive rice smuggling in the country by traders led by an influential man going by the name David Tan.
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The Customs bureau said in a statement it filed charges against officials of San Carlos Multi-Purpose Cooperative (Sacamuco), one of entities previously identified as consignees used to bring in rice into the Philippines without import permits.
Charged were Sacamuco chairperson Marivic Canillo; board memebers Felipe Gamuyao, Felipe Paas Jr., Aurelio Tome Jr. and Percy Reyes; as well as manager Doris Ortega. Sacamuco’s customs broker Marvin Cortez was also included in the raps.
The 7 individuals violated Section 3602 of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines and Article 171 of the Revised Penal Code, said Customs.
“As we vigorously challenge the court cases being filed against us by rice traders, we are committed to prosecuting traders who continue to import rice illegally. These practices are not only unfair to legitimate rice dealers and sellers, but also cause harm to our farmers,” said Customs Commissioner John Sevilla.
Investigation by the bureau showed that Sacamuco misdeclared both the actual quantity of rice it imported and where these came from. In its import entries, it stated the rice, which arrived in a total of 55 20-foot container vans from August 27 to September 15, 2013, came from Thailand and that each container had only 380 sacks of rice. However, the rice imports actually came from Vietnam and that each container had as much as 520 sacks of rice.
In one of the hearings of the Senate committee on agriculture and food on rice smuggling, Sevilla revealed that big-time smugglers are able to import rice without permits by securing court orders. Said orders prevent Customs from confiscating the rice imports at ports.
Poor farmers affected
In a press conference following the filing of the case, Sevilla reiterated that the issue of rice smuggling centers on poor rice farmers.
“Secondary ‘yong revenue losses, although that’s also important. ‘Wag nating kakalimutan that every incidence of smuggling of rice, ang nasasaktan talaga dito ang mga magbubuikid ng Pilipinas,” he said.
(The revenue losses are secondary, although that’s also important. Let’s not forget that every incidence of smuggling of rice hurts Filipino farmers.)
He said the latest case should should serve as a warning to importers.
“Sana po ay maging babala ito sa lahat ng mga importer na pag magiimport sila ng bigas sumunod sila sa tamang proseso at ‘wag na ‘wag nilang gagamitin ‘yong pagsisinungaling,” he said.
(We hope this will serve as warning to all importers that when they import rice, they follow the correct process and not use deceptive tactics.)
Sevilla added that given the enormity of cases this year, the battle against smuggling can be won “case by case, imports by imports, smuggler by smuggler.”
In 2013, Customs filed 22 rice-related smuggling cases under its Run After The Smugglers or RATS program. It seized P1.2 billion worth of illegally imported rice and cancelled the accreditation of 14 importers. – with a report from Buena Bernal/Rappler.com