MANILA - The Supreme Court (SC) issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the enforcement of a Davao court's ruling ordering the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to release a controversial shipment of imported rice from the ports of Thailand and Singapore last December consigned to a certain Joseph Ngo.
SC Public Information Office (PIO) chief Atty Theodore Te said the TRO prevents Davao City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 16 Presiding Judge Emmanuel Carpio, brother of Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, from enforcing a preliminary injunction on the BOC.
The BOC held Ngo's shipment of 91,800 bags of rice. The shipment was imported by controversial rice importer Starcraft Trading Corp. which entered into an agreement with an NGO for the purchase of the shipment.
Starcraft became controversial after being linked to businessman Davidson Bangayan, allegedly the current rice smuggling king in the country today, also known as "David Tan."
The subject shipment arrived in the Port of Davao in various dates in October and November 2013, and were held by Customs in the absence of the required import permit from the National Food Authority.
The NFA limits the number of rice importations by implementing quantitative restriction, and allows only registered rice importers to bring in foreign rice.
Ngo sought permanent injunction from the Davao RTC Branch 16 with a prayer for TRO, pointing out that quantitive restrictions on the importation of rice and securing a rice import permit may no longer be imposed by government in view of the expiration last June 30, 2012 of the Special Treatment (ST) for Rice Importation granted to the Philippines under the Agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO). The Philippines is now negotiating for an extension of the ST.
Customs Commissioner John Sevilla and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala went to the high court to question the trial court's injunctive order.
The high court gave Carpio and Ngo 10 days to comment on their petition.
SHIPMENT ALREADY RELEASED
The SC's TRO, however, is rendered useless as far as the release of the subject rice shipment is concerned since the shipment was ordered released by Sevilla last Jan. 6 in compliance with the Davao RTC's injunction.
In a press statement issued last Jan. 16, Sevilla said he regretted that the BOC had no choice but to release the shipment despite the fact that it was not supported by an import permit and Ngo is not a registered rice importer with the NFA.
"The uncontrolled entry of rice into the Philippines will have a devastating effect on our farmers. We will continue to vigorously challenge these court orders in the proper courts.
"In that endeavor, we hope to have the support of farmers, the general public, and the rest of the government," Sevilla said.
In his January 6 order for the release of Ngo's shipment, Sevilla stressed that the rice shipment should only be released after the filing of proper import entries and full payment of import duties and taxes.