RICE smuggling in the country was so rampant last year to the point that smugglers sneaked in 50,000 tons of rice a week at the height of their operations, a Bureau of Customs (BOC) official disclosed on Tuesday.
Customs Deputy Commissioner for Assessment and Operations Coordinating Group Agaton Teodoro Uvero, however, made it clear that the figure is just based on anecdotal evidence and that they are still gathering more data for confirmation.
Uvero, during the Senate ways and means committee hearing told lawmakers that at least 2,000 20-footer containers of undocumented rice entered the country through various ports during a nine-month period in 2013.
The smuggled rice, according to Uvero, were brought into the country using the ports in Cebu, Davao, Legaspi and even in Manila.
He said that the rampant rice smuggling lasted until October; after that, all rice importation in the country had been secured with import permits.
“There are still importation of rice but these have import permits,” Uvero told the members of the committee chaired by Sen. Sonny Angara.
Senate minority leader Juan Ponce Enrile took to task the BOC over how smugglers managed to operate freely despite the agency’s supposed campaign against smuggling.
“Despite of the entry of un-taxed rice into the country, prices are still high, so in effect we are exploiting the people of these country. This has to be corrected,” Enrile pointed out during the hearing.
Enrile noted that the ongoing BOC campaign to curb smuggling would not prosper without the full backing of Malacañang.
Enrile, who also served as BOC commissioner during the Ferdinand Marcos administration, recalled that he was able to succeed in fighting smuggling because the Palace backed him up.
“I’m sure the President [Benigno Aquino 3rd] is saying that he is giving you full backing but what I’m saying is that the entire government must exert its effort, not just one agency,” he said.
Uvero for his part assured the lawmakers that the President is fully supporting the BOC fight against smuggling and with current reforms being undertaken by the bureau smuggling can be curbed before the end of the Aquino administration.