BOC to DOJ: Prioritize rice smuggling, not just Vhong

The Customs chief says Vhong Navarro is not the only one in need of justice. Poor farmers are badly affected by rice smuggling

SWORN STATEMENT. Vhong Navarro files a supplemental affidavit before the Department of Justice, 06 Feb 2014. Photo by Jose Del/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Bureau of Customs (BOC) Chief John Sevilla appealed to the Justice department and the courts to also add in their priorities the rice smuggling complaints it has filed, saying a celebrity’s extortion case should not take center stage. 

Ang appeal po namin ay pakiaksyunan na ito sa lalong madaling panahon. Hindi lang po si Vhong Navarro ang nangangailangan ng katarungan. Ang magsasaka po ng Pilipinas ay nangangailangan po ng katarungan,” Sevilla said during the BOC’s filing of smuggling complaints before the DOJ. (READ: Coop faces smuggling raps for P34-M illegal rice imports)

(Our appeal is [for DOJ] to take action here [with smuggling cases] the soonest time possible. Vhong Navarro is not the only one in need of justice. The farmers of the Philippines also need justice.)

BOC filed before the Department of Justice (DOJ) 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 DOJ, on the other hand, is currently pursuing a series of complaints involving the alleged extortion and mauling of noontime show host and comedian Vhong Navarro.

Navarro’s case has gotten extensive media coverage. 

DOJ Secretary Leila de Lima said his case merited a probe. This was after she was approached by one of the parties linked to the scandal who she refused to identify.

De Lima issued a lookout bulletin against 5 of the suspects in Navarro’s case, instructing the immigration bureau to be on alert for their possible departure.

The National Bureau of Investigation said it has strong evidence to back up Navarro’s side.  

Navarro showed up at the DOJ with police escorts a few hours after BOC filed its smuggling complaint. He filed a supplemental affidavit.

‘Think of the farmers’

Sevilla’s appeal to DOJ and the courts to take speedy action on rice smuggling came after he was asked why there were a lot of smuggling complaints filed by BOC but no case resolved yet.

He urged court judges to think of the poor farmers when issuing orders to enjoin BOC from intercepting smuggled import goods.

Poor farmers are having a hard time selling their harvest due to competition from cheap smuggled rice. Sevilla said on top of this, government is losing much-needed revenues from illegal importations.

Ang appeal po namin sa mga huwes na nagiisyu o may kaso ng injuction na ganito, isipin lang po sana natin ang kapakanan ng magsasaka hindi lamang po ang kapakanan ng ating mga importers na nagpasok ng bigas na walang pahintulot ng pamahalaan,” he said.

(Our appeal to judges who issue or has cases of injunction like this [is to] just think of the welfare of the farmers and not just the interest of importers who import rice without the government’s permit.)

On Wednesday, February 5, the group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) filed an administrative complaint against a Davao City Regional Trial Court judge for preventing BOC from seizing rice shipments without import permits.

SINAG said in their complaint that BOC was merely doing its duty, implementing a procedure long adopted by the agency.

Reverse-burden 

When asked about BOC’s performance, the Customs Commissioner said it “will leave it to the public to judge whether we are doing our job properly.” (READ: BOC revamps to meet collection targets)

He added that the revenue collections of BOC from January to October 2013 increased  by 5% compared to the same period in 2012. The BOC’s target for 2014, he said, is a 30% increase.

The fact na tumaas na po, siyempre gusto po naming ipagpatuloy ‘yon… ‘Yong report card namin, kung effective ba ‘yong reforms na inumpisahan namin ngayon ay kung masustain namin ‘yon at masustain pa namin ‘yong improvements in collections,” he explained.

(The fact that our revenue collections increased, of course we want to continue that… Our report card on whether the reforms we instituted are effective is if we are able to sustain the improvements in collections.)

The reform team at the BOC was put in place during the months of September, October and December 2013, said Sevilla. – Rappler.com