Govt intensifies anti-smuggling drive again

The government has intensified its anti-smuggling drive particularly in the illegal entry of agricultural products which not only affected income of thousands of local farmers but also pose danger to health of every Filipino.

The National Food Authority (NFA) and the Bureau of Customs (BoC) have joined forces to curb rice smuggling in the country.

NFA Administrator Angelito Banayo said the signing of a memorandum of agreement (MoA) with the BoC was in response to reports of increasing incidents of illegal entry of rice into the country.

Last December alone, authorities apprehended some P20 million worth of illegally imported rice in various southern ports of the country.

Banayo said proliferation of smuggled rice in the domestic market has affected the plight of local rice farmers.

“Rice smuggling deprives our farmers with a remunerative income from their produce. It is important for the NFA to protect our farmers,” he said.

The NFA official noted that with no incentive for local farmers to increase their palay production, the country’s domestic food supply would be threatened.

This would also pose a big challenge to the NFA’s twin mandate of stabilizing the supply and price of rice and ensuring the country’s food security, he said.

Since July 1, Banayo said the NFA has not issued any import permit, thus any rice imports without a permit are considered illegal.

Among the provisions of the agreement include the issuance of an Import Authority (IA) by the NFA for any rice importation with a copy being furnished to the BoC.

Only the District Ports and not any sub-port or private wharf shall be designated as port of entry and discharge for incoming rice shipments.

The BoC shall also be informed of all incoming rice shipments, specifically on the volume, type and brand, country source and supplier in that country, importer, carrying vessel and designated port of entry and discharge.

Upon the arrival of the carrying vessel, the BoC can demand for the presentation the IA. Failure to present the same or any other violation shall be ground for the seizure of the shipment or vessel.

Another provision of the MoA is the issuance by NFA of a Transport Permit (TP) copy furnished to the BoC to cover all coast-wide or in-land movement of every rice shipment.

The TP shall state a description of the shipment, including its origin, supplier, destination, and whether it is imported or locally sourced.

In case of imported rice, an IA should accompany the TP for that particular shipment and a BoC official receipt to show payment of duties and taxes. The absence of the TP or IA shall be a ground for the seizure of the rice shipment or vessel.

Both agencies also agreed to jointly undertake seizure and/or inspection operations against rice smuggling. Both NFA and BoC shall deputize the other parties’ officials or employees who will be participating in such operations in accordance with pertinent laws and regulations.

Atty. Gilberto Lauengco was appointed as NFA representative to the Joint Task Force with Atty. Ramon Cuyco from the BoC as his counterpart.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture (DA) has endorsed the consolidation and approval of the various proposals in Congress that seek to further strengthen the anti-smuggling mechanism of the government.

The endorsement was made by DA Undersecretary for Policy and Planning Segfredo Serrano in a letter to the House committee on ways and means chaired by Batangas Rep. Hermilando Mandanas.

Serrano said the DA reiterates its strong advocacy for an amendment of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines that will incorporate provisions that address smuggling of agricultural products and a mechanism that will ensure conformity of agricultural products to Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) measures before they are imposed tariffs and allowed entry by the BoC.

“Given this consideration, the DA supports the various bills proposing the amendment of the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines,” he said.

Serrano cited several recommendations of the DA for incorporation in the anti-smuggling measures, which include the inclusion of the NFA, with respect to rice importation, be furnished with electronically “Manifest and Bill of Lading” to ensure efficient monitoring of the actual volumes of rice being imported by certified and duly authorized licensed importers.

The DA also recommended that no agricultural products shall be allowed to be placed in customs bonded warehouse without clearance from the DA regulatory agencies to prevent the introduction of pests and diseases in the customs warehouse.

On abandonment of imported articles, the DA strongly recommended that all abandoned articles should not be auctioned but instead should be automatically subject to proper disposition.

“Automatic auction of abandoned agricultural products without the appropriate quarantine clearance from relevant DA agencies poses the risk of introduction of pests and diseases,” said Serrano.

The DA also proposed that if articles to be placed in the bonded warehouse are agricultural products, the BoC shall coordinate and solicit the approval of the DA prior to allowing the establishment of the bonded warehouses to ensure that the SPS standards and food safety of agricultural products will be observed in bonded warehouses.

On the establishment of Bonded Manufacturing Warehouses, Serrano said they are proposing to include the DA as a member of the approving body for these.

On the supervision and control over criminal and civil proceedings, the DA recommended, for purpose of expediency in the prosecution of cases, that lawyers or deputized officers of concerned agencies such as DA or private individuals, corporations and associations, or both, be allowed to participate in these proceedings in collaboration with or under the supervision of the BoC provided they show interest or inquiry arising from the matter.

On the modes of disposition of property under BoC custody, Serrano said clarification has to be made as to what comprises foodstuffs.

“If these refer to agricultural products, then they should comply with the SPS requirements,” he said.

The DA also strongly recommends that the disposition of illegally imported articles shall be at the expense of the importer, broker, supplier or whoever facilitates the importation of the articles.

“We have reservations on transferring the liability to the government entity which is designated to export the article,” said Serrano.

So far, the House committee on ways and means has been conducting hearings on six bills seeking to strengthen the anti-smuggling mechanism of the government by amending certain provisions of Presidential Decree 1464, otherwise known as the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines.

These are: House Bill 46 of Reps. Rufus Rodriguez (Cagayan de Oro City) and Maximino Rodriguez (Abante Mindanao party-list); HB 114 of Rep. Pedro Romualdo (Camiguin); HB 171 of Rep. Eric Singson Jr. (Ilocos Sur); HB 572 of Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara (Aurora); HB 1694 of Reps. Lorenzo “Erin” Tanada III (Quezon) and Nicanor Briones (AGAP party-list); and HB 3055 of Sorsogon Rep. Salvador Escudero III. PNA

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