Customs files charges vs 2 steel importers, customs brokers

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) on Monday, April 14, filed smuggling-related charges with the Department of Justice (DOJ) against the owners and customs brokers of two firms that allegedly attempted to illegally bring into the country almost P31 million in steel products.

The BOC said in a statement that it filed charges against the officials of Thunder Birds Trading, one of the Philippines’ largest importers of steel and iron products, Skylink Import-Export Inc, and their respective customs brokers.

“Without a doubt, these importers willfully attempted fraud to evade payment of correct duties and taxes. Both Skylink and Thunder Birds underdeclared their imports significantly. This is an attempt to defraud the government of due taxes and funds for public services for our people,” said Customs Commissioner John Sevilla.

Sevilla also said that the two companies also endangered the lives of Filipinos by “importing” substandard steel products.

“Skylink and Thunder Birds not only attempted to cheat the government, they recklessly endanger the lives of millions of ordinary Filipinos by bringing in sub-standard steel products. Their actions not only threaten lives but thousands of jobs in the local steel industry,” the BOC chief said.

The BOC filed two smuggling-related cases against Shine Rapadas Montes, owner and proprietress of Thunder Birds, and customs brokers Jolly Lareza and Arnel Asuncion.

Montes, Lareza and Asuncion face charges of violating the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines for unlawful importation and the fraudulent filing of import documents.

They also face charges for alleged violation of the Bureau of Product Standards Law for the attempt of a non-holder of an Import Commodity Clearance (ICC) to import steel angle bars without proper certification, and the Revised Penal Code for falsification of documents.

The first case involves Thunder Birds’ importation of 8 20-foot container vans of  declared as “steel angle frames” but were found to contain “steel angle bars” upon examination. 

The BOC investigation also showed that Thunder Birds had “misdescribed the product and misdeclared the weight and value” of the shipment to avoid the additional payment for imported steel angle bars of P3,706.03 per metric ton (MT), as mandated under Republic Act  8800 or the Safeguard Measures Act of 2000.

The second case against the firm involves the importation of 12 20-foot containers from China declared as “steel sheets, clamps, flexible tubing and hinges” but were found to contain “cold rolled steel sheets.” 

“A further check on the import documents showed that the firm also misdeclared the weight and value to avoid paying higher duties and taxes,” the BOC said.

The BOC also filed smuggling-related charges against officials of Skylink and their customs broker for alleged violation of the Tariff and Customs Code and the Revised Penal Code.

Those facing charges are Skylink president Junnhel Atun, corporate secretary Donna Donita Mercado, treasurer Jumean Rose Atun, directors Limuelle Montesa and Rogelio Ocampo, and customs broker Jarie Mae Juquiana. 

Skylink is being accused of misdeclaring 8 20-foot container vans as imported “hardware items (steel frame bar)” but were discovered to be “steel angle bars” upon inspection, which have an imposable duty of P3,706.03/ MT.

“Furthermore, Skylink’s import documents grossly misdeclared the weight and value of the goods to evade payment of the correct duties and taxes,” the BOC said.

The BOC also said that further verification with the Department of Trade and Industry-Bureau of Product Standards (DTI-BPS) revealed that Thunder Birds and Skylink did not have the required ICC.

This means that their imported steel products were never tested  nor certified to ensure compliance with safety and product quality standards.

At the recent hearing of the Senate Committee on Trade, Commerce, and Entrepreneurship, it was learned that about 25% of steel products sold in the country are substandard. and  brought into the country either through technical smuggling or misdeclaration, or direct smuggling. – Rappler.com

Mia M. Gonzalez

Mia M. Gonzalez is a senior desk editor of Rappler. She previously covered the Philippine presidency and politics. An award-winning literary writer, she is the author of Welostit and Other Stories, which was a finalist for the National Book Award.

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