No letup in war vs rice smugglers, Customs chief vows (Inquirer)

EMERGING from a meeting with leaders of the agricultural sector from southern Tagalog and Central Luzon yesterday, Customs Commissioner John Phillip Sevilla vowed no letup in the war against rice smugglers and corrupt BOC personnel, and more teeth in the campaign against the smuggling of other agricultural products.

“The fight isn’t over yet. A lot of things still need to be done. We will do our best to stop the smuggling not just of rice but other agricultural products,” he said.

Sevilla, a former finance undersecretary, told the sector leaders “we will be your partners and you can trust us,” at the meeting held at the Bureau of Customs ( BOC) head office in Port Area, Manila.

Happy with outcome

In its intensified drive against smuggling, Sevilla said the BOC would “be needing the help of other organizations in both the public and private sectors.”

Ernesto Ordoñez, chair of the group Alyansa Agrikultura (AA), and Jaime Tadeo, a member of the National Rice Farmers Council, both said they were “happy with the outcome” of their dialogue with the customs chief.

“We asked Commissioner Sevilla for swift action against rampant rice smuggling in the country. We’re happy because he committed to investigate and prosecute immediately the suspected smugglers and corrupt customs personnel who connived with them,” said Ordoñez, a former trade undersecretary and currently an INQUIRER columnist.

Earlier in a press statement, AA said the government had lost over P882 billion in revenue during the period 2004-12 due to the smuggling of agricultural products.

For his part, Tadeo said they “believe in the sincerity of the new customs administration in solving the rice smuggling problem, as well as in cleaning up the bureau.”

He called their dialogue with Sevilla a “good start in our joint fight against rice smuggling.”

During the hour- long meeting, representatives of the hog, poultry, fisheries and vegetable sectors asked Sevilla to include their groups in the bureau’s antismuggling campaign.

They called for, among other measures, the “automatic transmittal of the bureau’s Inward Foreign Manifests to the Department of Agriculture in order to identify smuggled items; the inclusion of the DA in the Customs Valuation and Classification Review Committee to help guard against technical smuggling; and the provision of import-export information from customs bonded warehouses to detect leakages of smuggled products into the domestic market.”

Unacted on

AA noted that as far back as Feb. 11, 2011, it had forwarded these recommendations to the bureau, but they had remained unacted upon.

The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) said the government had suffered foregone revenue of around P64 billion as a result of the rampant smuggling of rice, vegetables, meat and other agricultural products in 2012 and 2013.

Rosendo So, a director of Titan Agricultural Products and Sinag president, said the estimates of government losses from smuggling were based on a comparison of data released by exporting countries and the import data reported by the government.

By Jerry E. Esplanada

As published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on February 28, 2014