MALACAÑANG has declared a total war against smugglers of rice and other commodities as unscrupulous importers and brokers continue to defy the Bureau of Customs’ (BOC) appeal to shape up during the first six months of the Duterte administration.
Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco, head of the inter-agency task force against smuggling, announced on Wednesday that from hereon the BOC and other concerned government agencies would go hard and run without let-up after companies and personalities who continue to defy the law to avoid payment of correct duties and taxes.
“It is public knowledge that the President has no tolerance for rice smugglers. The President, needless to say, is also very protective of the marginalized and our rice farmers. In order to protect the marginalized and the rice farmers, we must harmonize and synchronize efforts to ensure strict implementation of the law, particularly the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016 or Republic Act 10845,” Evasco said in a news briefing at the bureau.
“To those who will smuggle rice, please stop,” he added. “We call on all the traders to heed the President’s call for zero graft and corruption in and out of government. We will be watching you and we will run after you,” he added.
Evasco pointed out that rice smuggling is economic sabotage because it distorts the local price of rice and bloats domestic supply, thus putting consumers and farmers in an extremely disadvantageous situation.
He disclosed that the inter-agency task force has collectively agreed, among others, to strictly implement that no import permit, no importation policy as provided by law, allow only up to 2 percent from the previous 10 percent overlanding or rice load as allowance for potential breakage and damages and disallow the use of free port zones as point of entry of imported rice and other commodities.
“We have agreed that there will no exception. Violation will merit seizure of goods. We have also further agreed to study the possibility of donating all of these rice to the DSWD [Department of Social Welfare and Development] for the agency’s Pantawid ng Pamilyang Pilipino Program to meet the needs of disaster victims,” Evasco said.
“Perhaps, the government is better off with this scheme instead of auctioning it. Auctioning the seize rice when in reality it is still the traders who will place their bids,” he noted.
No import permit, no entry
Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon explained that under the new guidelines, rice importers are free to bring the staple food anywhere, provided that they have import permits and that taxes have been paid.
According to Faeldon, ships loaded with imported rice without import permits would not be allowed to enter within the 12 nautical miles territorial waters of the Philippines or risk automatic seizure.
He said the 2 percent allowable excess on the landed volume of rice is deductible from the maximum access volume (MAV) of the specific importers and still subject to duties and taxes.
Faeldon clarified that imported rice may only be allowed entry in the free port zones after payment of duties.
Along with it, the Customs bureau has also made conscious efforts to provide opportunity to new but qualified players to ensure fair competition.
But importers and brokers who repeatedly violate the law, Faeldon said, would be delisted and charges would be filed against them
According to the BOC commissioner, they have already delisted 70 firms from its accreditation list, saying they would be publishing thousands more in the coming weeks out of the 11,000 accredited importers and brokers.
“These are smugglers. So everytime you attempt to do illicit trade, you will be removed. That is on a day-to-day basis. That includes brokers and consignees, we will not accredit them,” Faeldon added.
“In fact brokers who are repeatedly involved [in smuggling], we will submit your case to the PRC [Professional Regulation Commission] and let [the]PRC determine if they will remove your license,” he said.
Under RA 10845, large-scale agricultural smuggling covers all importations of sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish and cruciferous vegetables in their raw state, or which have undergone the simple processes of preparation or preservation for the market.
Illegal importations with a fair market value of P1 million or P10 million in the case of rice will fall under this classification.
It states that large-scale agricultural smuggling is committed by importing or bringing goods into the Philippines without the required import permit, unauthorized use of import permits, using fake import permits or shipping documents, selling, lending, leasing, assigning, consenting or allowing the use of import permits, organizing or using dummy corporations or companies for the purpose of acquiring import permits, misclassification, undervaluation or misdeclaration to evade payment of lawful duties and taxes, transporting or storing the agricultural product subject to economic sabotage and acting as broker of the importer.
Violators face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, and a fine of twice the fair value of the smuggled agricultural products and the aggregate amount of the taxes, duties and other charges.
Local offenders shall be penalized with perpetual disqualification to engage in importation, while alien offenders shall be deported after serving the sentence.
Government officials involved in smuggling shall be punished with criminal liability and perpetual disqualification from public office.
Illegal entry of agricultural products causes heavy damage to the country’s agriculture sector and the government, with revenue losses amounting from P60 billion to P80 billion.