The Bureau of Customs (BOC) has vowed to “vigorously” challenge in the proper venue three municipal trial court orders in Davao, Manila and Batangas preventing the bureau from implementing any alerts, seizures and hold orders against rice importers
in the country.
BOC Chief John Sevilla admitted that the bureau temporarily cannot stop the “uncontrolled entry of rice” in the country because of the existing writ of preliminary injunctions released by the lower court.
The BOC chief appealed to the public for understanding, especially “farmers who are the most affected” by the rice importation.
“We regret what the judges in Davao, Manila and Batangas did, we can no longer stop the entry of rice with no import permits in those areas,” Sevilla said.
The decision of the 11th Judicial Region, Branch 16 in Davao City, enjoins and restrains the BOC and attached agencies “from seizing, alerting and/or holding the rice shipments of Starcraft International Trading Corp. owned by a certain Joseph Ong.”
Further, the BOC was also prohibited from implementing any alert orders, hold orders, and issuances in relation to the importer’s shipments and/or refusing to lift any such orders or issuances; and doing any act that would prejudice in the court’s order.
The Starcraft International Trading Corp. has posted a bond of P5 million, the Regional Trial Court (RTC) said.
Meanwhile, the BOC emphasized that Ngo was not a registered importer of the bureau and was not a consignee under the import entries for the rice shipments.
Citing its records, the bureau showed that Ngo’s shipment consisting of 167 containers, containing 3.3 tons of rice was a part of the 2, 000 containers held by the BOC for lack of imports since September 2013.
“The shipments consist of 167 containers containing 3.3 tons of rice, and are the subject of nine specific bills of lading which the Davao City Regional Trial Court, Branch 16, under Judge Emmanuel Carpio has ordered the BOC not to hold. This is despite the fact that Mr. Ngo is not a registered importer with the Bureau of Customs, and is not a consignee under the import entries for the rice shipments,” the BOC said in statement released by Charo Lagamon, Chief of the Public Information and Assistance Division.
On the other hand, as per the injunction issued by the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 54 under Judge Maria Paz Reyes-Yson, the BOC was prevented implementing any alerts, seizures, or hold orders, whether current or future, against rice shipments of Starcraft International Trading Corp.
The Starcraft International Trading Corp. was able to post a bail P10 million.
“[The shipment] . . . which may have previously arrived in the Philippines, those which are expected to arrive or will arrive after the filling of the instant petition or during its pendency in any port in within the territorial jurisdiction of this Court; and implementing any alert and/or hold order, and consequently lifting any alert and hole order, relative to petitioner’s rice shipments including but not limited to those covered by the Bills of Lading,” the court ruling said.
Similarly, the Region IV, Branch 5 Regional Trial Court in Lemery, Batangas under Executive Judge Eutiquio Quitain has prevented the BOC from implementing any alerts, seizures, or hold orders in the future against rice shipments of Bold Bidder Marketing and General Merchandise by Ivy Souza.
Noting the negative effects of rice importation on farmers in the country, Sevilla assured the public and the government that the BOC will “vigorously” challenge the court orders in the proper venue.
“The uncontrolled entry of rice in the Philippines will have a devastating effect on our farmers. We will continue to vigorously challenge these court orders in the proper courts,” he said.
In this challenge to the bureau, the BOC chief asked the support of “farmers, the general public and the rest of the government.”
Imported rice should not be taxed and allowed to be traded by the private sector to strictly regulate the market, a lawmaker and former National Food Authority (NFA) administrator said.
Meanwhile, Northern Samar Rep. Emil Ong, an administration ally, criticized the government for allowing private individuals to import rice when there is still an enough supply from local farmers.
“That is my current advocacy to President [Benigno Aquino 3rd]: to abolish the taxes on importation and it should be the NFA to exclusively import rice because [smugglers]use their power and influence to import rice. That’s the anomaly there,” Ong said.
During his time at the NFA, Ong said that there is no smuggling because it is the NFA that solely imports rice at zero tariff and this would only be done when rice supply of local farmers are already bought by the government at high prices.
For its part, the Alyansa Agrikultura and R1, an action network focusing conducting a rice watch on Friday scored the release of 167 containers of smuggled rice, citing that the BoC and a Davao City Regional Trial Court erred in allowing it.
In a press conference in Quezon City, the two groups claimed that the government has rewarded rice smugglers while punishing the poor farmers who were deprived of their livelihood.
They noted that the government’s insistence that the injunction was in compliance with a court order from the Davao court that was also similarly issued by the Manila and the Batangas Regional Trial Courts was tantamount to setting a dangerous trend that makes a mockery of the goal of inclusive growth.
“They are legalizing smuggled rice and returning them to the thieves,” Aurora Regalado, convenor of R1 or Rice Watch said, referring to the attempt of the Department of Agriculture, the NFA and all other government institutions to release the 167 containers of smuggled rice from Vietnam.
“They are in fact unfit for human consumption,” she added.
Jimmy Tadeo, one of the alliance officials and National Council of Rice Farmers, said DA’s pronouncement that the country had already achieved rice sufficiency “included the smuggled rice” and in August last year smuggling rice was limited and almost halted because the department had shifted to announcing there was and might be a rice shortage giving way for imported rice to come into the country.
“This is a time to call Governor Rodrigo Duterte: instead of shooting rice smugglers, he should shoot government lawyer [James Dy] Buco for his false allegation that rice import restrictions have been lifted, as well as Judge [Emmanuel] Carpio for his faulty process to start the unjust and harmful injunctions on smuggled rice,” Tadeo said.
“They are killing hundreds of thousands of farmers for the benefit of a few,” Tadeo farther said.
The Alyansa Agrikultura is a fisherfolk-farmer coalition of 42 federations from the agricultural sector while R1 is a rice watch and action network focusing on rice.
Since the motion for reconsideration filed by the BoC was still pending, Alyansa Agrikultura and R1 said that the government should stop the release of the smuggled rice containers.