BOC files agri-smuggling cases vs. rice importers

THE Bureau of Customs (BOC) said that it filed four agricultural smuggling cases on Friday, September 29, against the rice importers who were allegedly connected with the warehouse in Bulacan that was previously raided, an official said on Saturday.

“The Bureau of Customs Bureau Action Team Against Smuggling (BATAS), that’s the anti-smuggling arm of the Bureau of Customs, nakapag-file po kami ng four cases, particularly po ito iyong sa rice,” said lawyer William Balayo, the acting Director of BOC’s Legal Service.

“Ang particular factual backdrop po nito, ito po iyong mga ni-raid noong August 24 sa Bulacan and pardon me po kung hindi ko mapapangalanan iyong mga akusado. Nonetheless po, we are happy to state that ito pong pinaylan (file) po namin ng cases. Tatlo po dito ay iyong economic sabotage,” he said.

While the three cases are considered large-scale, one case was not able to meet the P10-million threshold and was degraded to a violation of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) although it also falls under agricultural product smuggling, rice in particular, Balayo explained.

Balayo expressed hope that the public will understand that the BOC, under the leadership of Commissioner Bienvenido Rubio, is trying its best to stop all kinds of smuggling, particularly rice smuggling.

“Kasi talagang pahirap po iyong rice smuggling dito po sa ating bansa. And lalo na din po na hindi po namin trabaho talaga iyong hoarding, iyong paghuhuli po ng hoarding, pero sa pagbubukas po natin ng mga bodega nakikita po natin ngayon, Sir, iyong mga bigas na sa tingin namin ay baka hino-hoard po,” he said.

“And once na nakakita po kami ng ganiyan, we coordinate with the appropriate government agencies kagaya po ng NBI, kagaya po ng DTI and the PACC para sila po ang mag-file ng cases for hoarding. Sana po malinaw iyon na ang Bureau of Customs po ay hanggang sa anti-smuggling lang po; wala po kami sa hoarding.”

In the same forum, lawyer Marlon Agaceta, the chief of staff of the Customs Commissioner, said there are four pending letters of authority (LOA) implemented against four warehouses related to rice importation.

For the two importers, the deadline for submission of corresponding import documents to show the legality of the importation and proof of payment of correct duties and taxes lapsed on Friday, Agaceta said.

“But the two other LOAs which were served on September 15, mayroon pa po silang two more days to submit an ongoing po iyong inventory,” he said.

“The first warehouse, ang na-inventory po na stocks of rice, is 9,906 sacks of imported rice and the other one is 5,257 sacks of rice.”

Asked why it takes time for the BOC to file the cases against suspected rice smugglers, the BOC officials said that the government always gives time for the other party or the stakeholder to prove the legality of their importation process and to give them due process.

Without of course giving due process to these people, the state maybe liable for violating the Bill of Rights, the officials said.

Under the CMTA, importers are given 15 days to present proof of payment of duties and taxes through hearings before imported goods are seized if there is a violation on the side of the importer.

The BOC said that a case build-up is still being conducted for the filing of charges against smugglers in Zamboanga City where more than 42,000 sacks of smuggled rice were confiscated that were eventually donated to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)