MANILA, Philippines - At least 200,000 metric tons of rice were illegally imported into the country last year with about 75 percent of that allegedly consigned to only five importers, Bureau of Customs (BOC) Commissioner John Sevilla revealed yesterday.
Sevilla said data from the National Food Authority (NFA) showed the 200,000 metric tons of rice was imported without the required import permit, which far surpassed the estimated 55,000 MT of legally imported rice.
Sevilla identified the five rice importers as Silent Royalty Marketing, Bold Bidder Marketing and General Merchandise, Starcraft International Trading, Inter-Continental Gains and Medaglia de Oro Trading.
These five firms reportedly accounted for 75 percent or 150,000 MT of rice that were brought into the country via the Port of Manila and the Manila International Container Port without import permits.
Sevilla added the remaining 25 percent of illegal rice importations passed through the ports of Cebu, Davao, Cagayan de Oro and he sub-port of Mindanao Container Terminal in Phividec, Tagoloan and Misamis Oriental.
Coincidentally, the BOC identified them as the top rice importers for year 2013, next to the NFA.
Starcraft was previously mentioned in the investigation of suspected rice smuggler Davidson Bangayan, who is reportedly also known as David Tan.
“So internally what we are looking for is how this happened when the law and procedure (on importations) have been clear. Were there fake import permits? Did they recycle the import permits?” Sevilla asked.
They also noticed that the bulk of the rice importations without import permits took place around October, before the alert orders were issued and some two months before the BOC started receiving court injunctions.
These occurred during the second week of December when the courts ordered the release of the seized rice shipments.
They have so far received five court injunctions with the expectation of two more because there are pending petitions for injunction, Sevilla said.
The importers Starcraft, Bold Bidder and Silent Royalty were among those who filed an injunction case against the BOC.
Since the BOC does not blacklist importers under investigation, they would just place the five firms’ future shipments under alert if these fall under the category of illegal import.
At the moment, Sevilla said they are concentrating efforts on looking into the activities of their own BOC personnel, specifically the assessors and examiners who processed the release of questionable cargo.
Customs deputy commissioner for Intelligence Group (IG) Jesse Dellosa is reportedly in charge of investigating the transaction of 18 examiners and assessors.
Dellosa said the 18 would remain in their posts during the course of the investigation.
In the case of Silent Royalty, the NFA said it has not issued even a single import permit to the firm.
“So we are backtracking on our records and determining how many shipments came in for Silent Royalty. Who cleared the release? Did they present an import permit to the BOC employee? Can we see that import permit? Was it fake?” Sevilla said.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has raised a legal question on the quantitative restrictions (QR) on rice imports.
In a 12-page confidential legal opinion, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the NFA has no power to extend the imposition of QR following the expiration of the government’s commitment to the World Trade Organization-General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in June 2012.
While the agreement has expired, De Lima said it had provisions saying extension of the QR on agricultural products “shall only be by agreement after the conduct of negotiations.”
De Lima believes such provisions are binding. – Edu Punay