BOC probes Zamboanga port over rice smuggling
MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) is investigating indications of massive rice smuggling in Mindanao, calling on the district collector of the Zamboanga Port to explain the unusual activities in his jurisdiction.
Customs chief John Sevilla summoned district collector Enrico Turingan Jr to the BOC office in Manila on Wednesday, February 5, to hear his side on reports that smuggled rice are flooding major cities in Mindanao – particularly Zamboanga and Davao – in his watch.
The BOC probe is being conducted as the Senate committee on agriculture and the justice department are also pursuing separate investigations into the matter. On Monday, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte identified David Bangayan (also known as David Tan) as the one behind smuggling operations in big ports in Manila, Cebu, and Mindanao. The suspect was held in contempt by the Senate and was arrested by National Bureau of Investigation agents right after the hearing.
Also on Wednesday, a group of agricultural stakeholders filed with the Supreme Court on Wednesday an administrative complaint against the Davao City Regional Trial Court judge who prevented customs agents from seizing rice shipments that didn’t have an import permit.
A BOC official, who requested not to be named, said “outlying islands” in Mindanao import their rice from Malaysia because it’s nearer to Mindanao than Manila. There is an “internal” arrangement between the BOC and the Philippine Coast Guard “to allow the entry of imported rice from Malaysia for domestic use.”
The official said Turingan acknowledged that the rice imports flooding Zamboanga city were cleared in BOC sub-ports in Basilan, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.
However, the Zamboanga Port chief also supposedly said that there is a huge possibility that unauthorized shipments might have been using other entry points and backdoor channels.
Turingan said it is also likely that the rice supply flooding Zamboanga City are coming from other provinces.
Still, the BOC wants him to explain why he has failed to stem smuggling in his area.
Another BOC source said: “There are other deputies of Turingan not following him. Rice is being smuggled elsewhere.”
The Zamboanga police have confiscated thousands sacks of rice in a massive crackdown last year and turned it to BOC for disposal. Customs officials, however, released the confiscated goods because they were supposedly properly documented.
Davao judge sued
On Wednesday, a group called Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) filed an administrative complaint with the Supreme Court against Davao RTC Judge Emmanuel Carpio.
They said Carpio should be held liable for "gross misconduct and knowingly rendering an unjust judgment" when he ordered in December that alleged smuggled rice be released to one Joseph M. Ngo in Davao City.
The alleged smuggled goods – bought by Ngo from the Davao-based trading firm Starcraft International – didn’t have a permit from the National Food Authority (NFA).
In his order issued Dec 12, 2013, Carpio limited the BOC's powers to act on Ngo's case.
The BOC was prevented from implementing "any issuance to retain Mr. Ngo's rice shipments and doing any acts which would prejudice Mr. Ngo, while the propriety of the first two acts are still at issue and subject to judicial determination." – with a report from Buena Bernal/Rappler.com