MANILA - The Bureau of Customs (BOC) is on a nationwide probe to determine how some 200,000 metric tons of rice entered various ports in the country in 2013 without the required import permit from the National Food Authority (NFA).
During a press conference at the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Thursday, Customs Commissioner John Sevilla bared that the bureau's examiners and appraisers who cleared the shipments are being investigated.
However, these officers have not been relieved of their posts pending the results of the probe.
"Nagkaroon ng breakdown in the process. Paano nangyari? Kapag may nakapasok na walang import permit, may nagclear na appraiser or examiner. So tinatanong namin sila: 'Bakit na-clear ang mga ito?'" Sevilla said.
It is possible that the consignees and importers were able to present fake import permits. If this is the case, just the same, the examiners and appraisers are not yet off the hook since there should have been a determination on the authenticity of the said import document, Sevilla stressed.
A total of 150,000 metric tons of the subject total rice shipment without import permits arrived at the Port of Manila and Manila International Container Port; 75-percent of these were imported by only 5 consignees: Bold Bidder Marketing and General Merchandise, Starcraft Trading Corp., Intercontinental Grains, Medaglia De Oro Trading, and Silent Royalty Marketing.
All these shipments did not have records with the BOC's Transaction Audit Division where the entry files of importations are forwarded before being turned over to the Commission on Audit (COA).
The remaining 50,000 metric tons, meantime, came from ports in Cebu, Davao, Cagayan De Oro, and Misamis Oriental.
It was the NFA that raised the alarm when the BOC published data on total rice importations in 2013. The NFA alerted the BOC about the importations that were not subject of import permits.
Aside from the investigation to determine whether BOC examiners and appraisers should be held accountable for the entry of the illegal shipments, other measures are being put in place to prevent the entry and clearance of rice importations minus the import permits.
Beginning just this week, the NFA supplies the BOC copies of import permits it issues to consignees.
"Ngayon nachi-check na namin sino talaga ang may import permit," Sevilla stressed.
Sevilla explained that beginning this month, the NFA no longer honors import permits issued in 2013 which the agency has allowed to be honored up to January 2014 due to the "political turmoil in Thailand."
Some of the rice importations in various ports in the country come from Thailand.
The importation of rice is being regulated in the Philippines so as not to kill the local rice-producing industry.