SC TRO on alleged smuggled rice 'initial victory' for farmers
MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the Department of Agriculture both welcomed a decision by the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) on a lower court ruling that barred BOC personnel from seizing rice imports with no permits in Davao.
Customs Commissioner John Sevilla praised the SC's move against a ruling by Branch 16 of the Davao City Regional Trial Court (RTC).
"This is good news for the Bureau of Customs and even better news for our farmers," Sevilla said.
He added, "The action taken by the Supreme Court should serve as a strong signal to judges that injunctions issued by the lower courts pertaining to rice importations without permits are at the very least questionable or suspect. The magistrates of the High Tribunal are closely watching this issue, judging by their prompt action on our application for a TRO. We are committed to challenging court orders that favor illegal rice importations that no doubt have a devastating effect on our farmers.”
The DA echoed these sentiments, with Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala calling it "an initial victory for Filipino farmers who, for the long tine have been put at a disadvantage by illegal entry of imported rice."
The RTC ruling, made by Judge Emmanuel Carpio on December 12, 2013, would have restrained the District Collector of the Bureau of Customs in the Port of Davao from seizing, alerting, or holding the alleged illegal rice imports made by petitioner Joseph Ngo. Ngo purchased rice imported by Starcraft International Trading Corporation. (READ: SC allows customs to seize alleged smuggled rice for now)
Ngo previously purchased 15 shipments – 91,800 bags of white rice either from Thailand or Singapore – from Starcraft. Due to a lack of proper import permits from the National Food Authority, the BOC told Ngo the shipments could not be released.
Ngo filed a complaint with the Davao RTC. He sought an injunction, citing that the expiration of the Special Treatment for Rice Importation under the World Trade Organization meant quantitative restrictions, such as requiring import permits on the importation of rice, may no longer be imposed.
The BOC and DA, through the Office of Solicitor General (OSG), argued that Davao RTC’s writ went against NFA regulation that requires rice imports to be covered by import permits. The arguments posed also said Ngo cannot justify the importation by citing the June 2012 expiration of the quantitative restriction on rice imports. This is due to ongoing negotiations between the government and the WTO for an extension of the special restriction.
The SC said the arguments of the OSG regarding the lack of adequate representation of the BOC during the hearing before the Davao RTC and Ngo's lack of legal standing to sue held merit.
Sevilla noted that more rulings of this sort need to be disputed. "The TRO issued by the Supreme Court clearly establishes the legal right of the Bureau to hold these rice shipments. We earnestly hope that the OSG can help us secure similar rulings in the Manila and Batangas RTCs whose injunctions have helped rice smugglers," Sevilla added.
Last January 30, Manila RTC Branch 54 Judge Maria Paz Reyes-Yson issued a preliminary injunction, keeping the BOC from implementing any alerts, seizures, or hold orders, whether current or future, against rice shipments of Starcraft International Trading Corporation. A separate writ of preliminary injunction made by Executive Judge Eutiquio Quitain of the Region IV, Branch 5 RTC in Lemery, Batangas prevents the BOC from issuing alerts, seizing, or holding in the future rice shipments of Bold Bidder Marketing and General Merchandise. – Rappler.com