The Department of Agriculture (DA) welcomed the temporary restraining order issued by the Supreme Court that prevented the release of the remaining shipment of smuggled rice that were confiscated by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) at the Port of Davao late last year.
In a statement, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said that the issuance of the TRO is an “initial victory” for Filipino farmers, who for the longest time are at a disadvantage whenever smuggled rice enters the country.
“I hope this will be a start of more good news for them,” he said.
To recall, Alcala as chairman of the National Food Authority (NFA) and BOC Commissioner John Phillip Sevilla filed a petition for certiorari on February 21, asking for a temporary restraining order, status quo order and/or preliminary injunction to prevent the release of the remaining 85 containers of smuggled rice at the Davao Port.
From 167 containers containing 3.3 million kilos of rice, more than half of the shipment were able to leave port after Davao Regional Trial Court Branch 16 Judge Emmanuel Carpio prevented the BOC from seizing the smuggled rice—despite the lack of import permits from the NFA.
The smuggled rice was consigned to Joseph Ngo, who bought the rice from Starcraft International Trading Corp., a firm connected to David Bangayan also known as “David Tan.”
Alcala, through the Office of Solicitor General, argued that the Davao RTC’s writ went against the NFA Circular Memorandum Circular AO-2K13-003 that requires rice imports to be covered by duly issued import permits.
The DA chief also stated that Ngo could not use the expiration of the special treatment for rice importation under the World Trade Organization (WTO) as a justification for his act.
Both Judge Carpio and Ngo were required to comment on the petition against them within 10 days from receipt of its notice.
Alcala earlier stressed that the government would keep implementing minimum access volume on rice amid negotiations for the extension of the country’s special trade barrier.
“Until the WTO Council on Trade in Goods has decided on our appeal for the QR extension, we will continue to implement it,” he said.
He also warned unscrupulous traders that all rice shipment that will enter the Philippines without the necessary government permits will be confiscated.
“Unlawful entry into the country of rice and other commodities appears to be big business that negatively impact on government coffers,” Alcala said.
Under the agreement with the WTO, Manila has committed to a MAV of about 350,000 MT for rice, with tariff rate of 40 percent.
MAV refers to the minimum volume of farm produce allowed to enter into the Philippines at reduced tariffs, while shipments outside MAV pay higher rates of 50 percent and would need approval by the NFA.
Under MAV, Manila has a country-specific quota for Thailand (98,000 MT), China (25,000 MT), India (25,000 MT) and Australia (15,000 MT). The remaining 187,000 MT were classified as the omnibus minim access volume, which can be accessed from any country.
Manila has been consistently lobbying with its Southeast Asian neighbors and other major trade partners, citing the need to prepare Filipino farmers for international trade and for the country to achieve rice self-sufficiency.