MANILA, Philippines - Eighteen assessors and examiners of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) are being investigated for their alleged involvement in the release of several shipments of rice smuggled into Metro Manila last year.
BOC Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence Group Jesse Dellosa said Commissioner John Sevilla submitted the names of 18 Customs assessors and examiners whose names appeared in documents of questionable rice importations.
“Commissioner Sevilla has already filed (an) administrative complaint against those who are involved in the shipment of rice without import permit,” Dellosa said.
The intelligence division under the Custom’s Intelligence Group would take over the investigation of the administrative complaint against the BOC employees who are assigned to the Port of Manila (POM) and the Manila International Container Port (MICP).
“This is still just an investigation. They are not yet guilty. We still have to find out if they are indeed guilty. They have the right to explain themselves,” Dellosa said.
He added the 18 employees would continue to report for work during the course of the investigation while they might be called to appear before the IG office.
It might take them two months to complete the investigation, Dellosa said.
The BOC would also be “purging” the list of some 3,000 accredited consignees to remove fictitious companies and identify those that have pending cases with the agency.
Dellosa also clarified the investigation is not solely focused on rice importations of alleged rice smuggler David Tan.
It would cover rice shipment made by an importer or consignee that is not supported by an import permit, he said.
Dellosa said the BOC is still conducting an investigation on rice smuggling with one involving a certain Davidson Bangayan.
Congress is also looking into the extent of rice smuggling in the country.
Lawmakers noted that smuggled rice worth at least P58 million confiscated by the BOC is rotting at the Subic Freeport in Zambales.
The seized rice import is reportedly intended to be donated to victims of Typhoon Yolanda, and according to Pampanga Rep. Oscar Rodriguez, it is no longer fit for human consumption and may not even be good as animal feed.
The committee on good government and public accountability of the House of Representatives led by Rodriguez discovered the rotting rice shipment yesterday when it resumed an inquiry started more than two years ago in the previous Congress on the smuggling of three shipments of rice valued at nearly P700 million.
“It’s sad and unfortunate that a huge shipment of rice is rotting in Subic while we have millions of compatriots who need food and other assistance in areas devastated by calamities, including monster typhoon Yolanda,” Rodriguez said.
“This is almost criminal on the part of the negligent officials,” he said.
Chairman Roberto Garcia of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) told the committee that the confiscated rice shipment entered the free port in 90 20-foot containers sometime in 2012.
He said the rice was confiscated and then donated to victims of Typhoon Pablo, which hit the country in early December 2012, killing hundreds.
“After Yolanda struck in November, Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima called up to ask if the seized rice could be used to help typhoon victims. So we sent him 16 container vans. But he later told us that he had it subjected to laboratory test and was found to be no longer fit for human consumption,” he said.
According to documents obtained by the Rodriguez committee, the shipment came from Vietnam and was consigned to Oriental Tradelink Express, Inc. and Masagana Import-Export Inc.
BOC-SBMA seized it after it was declared as construction materials.
Another cargo of 420,000 bags of Indian rice consigned to Metro Eastern Trading was also confiscated because it was not covered by an import permit from the National Food Authority (NFA).
The Indian rice shipment was subsequently sold through auction and Pelayo de Vera of Veramar Rice and Trading of San Rafael, Bulacan won the bidding with an offer of P487.2 million.
The BOC set a floor price of P462 million.
A third shipment of rice, seized at the port of Legazpi City, sold for P154.6 million through auction. – Jess Diaz, Roel Pareño