By Leonel Abasola

RICE ALLOWANCE. Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program beneficiaries of Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte bring home sacks of rice on Friday (Sept. 29, 2023). President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. led the distribution of the sacks of rice, part of the seized goods from a Zamboanga City warehouse raided by the Bureau of Customs. (PNA photo by Joey Razon)

MANILA – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) said it has filed four agricultural smuggling cases against the rice importers who connected with a warehouse in Bulacan that was previously raided, an official said on Saturday.

The Bureau Action Team Against Smuggling (BATAS), the BOC anti-smuggling arm, filed the cases on Friday, lawyer William Balayo, the acting Director of the BOC Legal Service said at the Saturday News Forum in Quezon City.

Ito po iyong mga ni-raid noong Aug. 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 po namin ng cases. Tatlo po dito ay iyong economic sabotage (This was the warehouse raided on Aug. 24 in Bulacan but I cannot name the suspects. Nonetheless, we are happy to state that we have filed cases. Three of them are economic sabotage),” he said.

While the three cases are considered large-scale, one case was not able to meet the PHP10-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 assured that the BOC, under the leadership of Commissioner Bienvenido Rubio, is trying its best to stop all kinds of 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, iyong mga bigas na sa tingin namin ay baka hino-hoard po (Rice smuggling is really getting worse. Stopping hoarding is not part of our mandate but we see that they may be really hoarding, based on what we see in warehouses. They hoard rice),” he said.

Balayo said they coordinate such findings with the appropriate government agencies, like the National Bureay of Investigation and Department of Trade and Industry.

“We can only act on smuggling cases, not hoarding,” he said.

In the same forum, lawyer Marlon Agaceta, the chief of staff of Rubio’s office, said there are four pending letters of authority (LOAs) 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.

“But the two other LOAs which were served on Sept. 15, mayroon pa po silang (they have) two more days to submit and ongoing po iyong inventory (the inventory is ongoing),” he said.

The first warehouse has 9,906 sacks of imported rice and the other one has 5,257 sacks.

Agaceta said the BOC must give time for the other party to prove the legality of the importation, which is part of the due process.

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 a case buildup 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 early this month.

The seized goods were donated to the Department of Social Welfare and Development for distribution to the indigent sector. (PND/PNA)