50,000 tons of smuggled rice entered the country weekly last year – BOC

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RICE smuggling in the country is very rampant last year to the point that smugglers were able to sneak in 50,000 tons of rice a week at the height of their operation, an official of Bureau of Customs disclosed on Tuesday.

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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 regarding the matter.

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 the nine-month period last year.

The smuggled sacks of 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 and since then all rice importation in the country have import permits.

“There are still importations of rice but these have import permits,” Uvero told the members of the committee chaired by Senator Sonny Angara.

Senate minority leader Juan Ponce Enrile, during the hearing questioned the BOC as to how did smugglers manage to operate freely last year despite of the supposed campaign of the agency 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 said during the hearing.

But Enrile pointed out that the BOC’s ongoing campaign to curb smuggling in the country would  not prosper without the full backing of Malacanang.

Enrile, who also served as BOC commissioner during the time of former president Ferdinand Marcos, recalled that he was able to succeed in fighting smuggling during his time 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’s fight against smuggling and with current reforms being undertaken by the bureau smuggling  can be resolved before the end of the Aquino administration.

Angara in a separate interview in convinced that smuggling remains rampant in the country but it doesn’t mean that it cannot be stopped.

He noted that among the things that should be changed in the bureau is the too much discretion being given to its officials and Angara said that by making the system fully computerized could put an end to the “old system” which is said to be rooted deeply. JEFFERSON ANTIPORDA

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