MANILA - The Supreme Court (SC) on Tuesday stopped the implementation of an injunction order of a Manila trial court against the Bureau of Customs (BOC) on the holding of suspected "hot rice" in the Port of Manila.
The high court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against the order of Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Cicero Jurado, Jr., dated Jan. 24, which prevented the Bureau of Customs (BOC) from "seizing, alerting, and/or holding" 480 containers of rice imported without the necessary import permit from the National Food Authority (NFA).
The shipment was bought by Danilo Galang, owner of St. Hildegard Grains Enterprises, from one Ivy Souza of Bold Bidder Marketing and General Merchandise. Bold Bidder is among 5 consignees that imported a total of 150,000 metric tons of rice via the Port of Manila in 2013 without import permits, the 4 others are Starcraft Trading Corp., Intercontinental Grains, Medaglia De Oro Trading, and Silent Royalty Marketing.
Galang filed a petition with the Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) to question the seizure and obtained favorable injunctive reliefs.
The BOC and the Department of Agriculture (DA), through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), elevated the case to the high court, pointing out that the said shipment could not be released because the importer had no import permit from the National Food Authority (NFA).
Galang, in his petition before the lower court, pointed out that the Philippines is a signatory of the World Trade Organization General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (WTO-GATT), which had lifted the country's special treatment on quantitative rice restrictions effective June 30, 2012.
The OSG, in its plea before the SC, maintained that Jurado abused his discretion in issuing a TRO against the BOC on Jan. 16, and subsequently, a writ of preliminary injunction on Jan 24. The OSG pointed out that the NFA still has the authority to issue import permits to effect quantitative rice restrictions in spite of the expiration of the special treatment since the Philippines has sought another extension of the special treatment.
The Philippines' formal request for a waiver of its WTO obligation remains pending, the OSG noted.
This is the second restraining order issued by the SC against a lower court injunction on the release of suspected "hot rice."
Last Feb 25, the high court also handed down a TRO to stop the enforcement of a Davao court's ruling for the release of 91,800 sacks of rice imported by controversial importer Starcraft Trading Corp.;
Starcraft is allegedly owned by businessman Davidson Bangayan, who has hit headlines recently for allegedly being the "rice smuggling king" of the Philippines today.
The TRO involving the Starcraft shipment, however, came a bit late since the subject rice were already released when it was issued. The TRO on the Hildegard importation, meantime, will not suffer the same fate since the subject Hildegard shipment remains held at the Port of Manila, according to the BOC.
In a memorandum dated Jan 6, Customs Commissioner John Sevilla directed the District Collectors of the Ports of Manila and Davao to release shipment subject of court TROs or injunctions only after the filing of proper entries, full payment of duties and taxes, upon a request by the NFA, and if there is no other ground or just cause to hold the subject shipments.