Palace told: Don't blame SC for rice smuggling cases

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at Feb 07 2014 09:05 AM | Updated as of Feb 07 2014 05:10 PM

MANILA - The Supreme Court (SC) told the Palace yesterday not to blame the judiciary for the zero conviction and the slow resolution of rice smuggling cases in courts.

In a letter to The STAR, SC spokesman Theodore Te disagreed with the reported statement of Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. putting on the judiciary the burden to expedite the resolution of rice smuggling cases.

“I am sure Secretary Coloma knows the judiciary cannot act on cases that are not brought before it and convictions cannot be secured unless the burden of proof imposed by the Constitution is discharged by the Department of Justice (DOJ), which falls under the executive and not the judicial department,” Te said.

He explained the zero conviction rates in the 157 cases of rice smuggling filed since 2010 is not just an issue of speed of courts in resolving cases but of the quality of the evidence to support these cases.

“The rule of law, which the courts are duty bound to uphold, demands that the courts should inquire into any cases brought before it, to ascertain for itself that the burden of proof has been met, and if not, the constitutional presumption of innocence should be upheld,” Te said.

The SC official said delays in the resolution of court cases could not be generalized, considering the circumstances of each case and the amount of time required to resolve them.

He rebuffed Coloma’s suggestion for closer coordination and teamwork among all concerned government agencies, as he expressed belief it should only be directed at the members of the executive branch.

“The courts are not expected to have closer coordination or teamwork with the prosecutorial arm as, on the contrary, they are expected to be independent and, on many occasions, play the ‘spoilers’ role. In this way, the duty of exercising checks and balances can be best discharged by the courts,” Te said.

He said such statement from the Palace was superfluous and should have been directed at the DOJ, the prosecutorial arm of the executive branch.

The high court issued the statement in reaction to the reported statement of the Palace urging the courts to act faster on cases filed against smugglers to complement the administration’s campaign against rice smuggling.

Look into farmers’ plight, DOJ urged

The Bureau of Customs (BOC) has asked the DOJ to look into the plight of ordinary farmers whose livelihood is being threatened by the illegal rice smuggling activity.

Customs Commissioner John Sevilla, who was at the DOJ office yesterday morning, was reacting to a Malacañang statement on the zero conviction rates on smuggling cases.

While the Court of Tax Appeals (CTA) hears tax and smuggling cases, it is the DOJ that handles the prosecution.

Sevilla appealed to the DOJ and the courts to immediately act on the smuggling cases it had filed earlier, as it chided the agency for allegedly giving more attention to the case of television host and actor Vhong Navarro.

“It is not only Vhong Navarro who needs justice. Our farmers in the Philippines are also in need of justice,” he said.

“Let us not forget that in every incidence of rice smuggling, it is the Filipino farmers who are badly affected,” he added.

Yesterday, the BOC filed rice smuggling cases against six officials and a broker of the San Carlos Multi-Purpose Cooperative (SACAMUCO).

SACAMUCO was reportedly one of the consignees of a huge volume of rice brought into the country without an import permit last year.

Based on information from the BOC, SACAMUCO was alleged to have illegally imported over 28,000 sacks of rice worth P34 million.

Charged were SACAMUCO chairman Marivic Canillo; board members Felipe Gamuyao, Felipe Paas Jr., Aurelio Tome Jr. and Percy Reyes, and manager Doris Ortega. – With Evelyn Macairan