Rice smuggling stays unabated
Cheap Imported Grains Flooding Zamboanga City
February 5, 2014 (updated)
Zamboanga City – Cheap imported rice is flooding the city’s public markets, prompting city officials to look for ways to stop the alleged smuggling of the prime commodity.
Mayor Beng Climaco yesterday said she has ordered the police to intensify their anti-smuggling campaign but conceded they’re still finding ways on how to address the problem.
“We are still studying the nuances of the operation,” said Climaco, citing the difficulty they’re facing. “As everyone knows, we’re very near Malaysia and there are many private wharfs where goods can be unloaded.”
Before the siege of Zamboanga last year, Climaco said police confiscated 3,000 sacks of rice that arrived between July and August.
“But after turning them over to the Bureau of Customs (BOC), customs officials simply returned them to the shippers,” she complained.
Climaco said they wrote to then Customs chief Ruffy Biazon about the incident but the issue was overtaken by the armed conflict last September when members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) fought the military for nearly three weeks.
Could Not Act
Pressed for his reaction, BOC district collector Enrico Turingan Jr., said taxes have been paid for the imported rice at their BOC sub port offices in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi.
Turingan said they could not act against the shipment because corresponding taxes have been paid at their ports of entry. He added that the goods are surplus rice supplies which traders have imported from Malaysia.
The customs official said rice traders from the three provinces are just disposing of their supplies to this city, “hence there is no need for us to confiscate their goods and tagged it as smuggled rice.”
During their campaign against rice smuggling, police authorities prevented the entry of thousands of sacks of imported rice stocks after shippers failed to produce the necessary documents like the authority to transport, importation documents and BOC payment receipt of taxes paid from their port of origin.
However, the BOC simply returned the confiscated goods to the shippers, which according to the police could be seen as a sign that customs officials may have been conniving with rice smugglers.
Imported rice is being sold at P1,600, just a little higher than NFA rice and cheaper than locally-produced commercial rice.
National Food Authority (NFA) Zamboanga City Manager Gaudencio Nuega said their office has no authority to confiscate the arrival of imported rice to this city.
Nuega said the only participation of NFA is when the shipper secures a “permit to transport” from the port of origin if the goods reach 200 sacks or more.
He explained that the permit to transport indicates the name of the shipper, who must be a licensed rice dealer and the name of the consignee rice dealer in this city.
“In the absence of these documents, BOC can confiscate their goods,” he said.
Recognizing the campaign against smuggling is no easy task, the government has pledged to implement “systemic reforms” in the BOC to fight groups behind the illegal activity and their cohorts in government.
Apart from revamp in the Customs bureau, Presidential Communications Operations Secretary Herminio said there must be systemic change, such as the automation of customs’ procedure, to plug loopholes and curb graft and corruption.
“The government is actively taking steps to curb smuggling and bring smugglers to the bar of justice,” Coloma said in a Palace press briefing.
“We assumed office without any illusion that this is a small-time problem. We realized that this is a systemic and deeply-rooted problem that is why we are prepared to address it strategically and to adopt long-term solutions,” he added.
Coloma said at least 157 cases have been filed against tax evaders and smugglers since 2010. Under the Run After Tax Evaders and Smugglers program, the government has committed to file a case per week.
Coloma noted that Customs chief John Philip Sevilla has already taken steps “to promote transparency and openness, simplified transactions, and adopted a systemic approach to plug loopholes and minimize opportunities for graft and corruption.”
Coloma identified the specific reform measure such as the centralized single reference for valuation information, implementation of a single dispute resolution process for valuation, digitization of every single formal transaction, review of the monitoring of Customs bonded warehouses, revamp of the importer accreditation process and intensified monitoring of sensitive imports.
“There must be systemic change and the identification of the root cause of the problem,” he said.
Tariff, Customs Code
Coloma also agreed with the need to amend the country’s tariff and customs code to make it responsive to modern global trade.
“We have to adjust to the demands of the global economy so we can be more competitive especially since the ASEAN economic integration is imminent,” he said. “Many of the products have lower tariffs and their target is to implement zero tariff,” he added.
The government has drawn flak for the alleged widespread smuggling of rice and other goods in the country. The Senate has started an inquiry into reports of rice smuggling perpetrated by a certain David Tan.
But as authorities train its sights on the suspected big-time smuggler, Malacañang said the prosecution must focus on “not just one individual but all individuals who are violating the law.”
“We want to see progress in finding out who are responsible for the crime of smuggling, evasion of tax payment to the government,” Coloma said. He added that government seeks the prosecution of smugglers since it will serve as a deterrent to others who want to repeat the offense. (With a report from Genalyn D. Kabiling)