House to probe Customs laws, procedures

By Caroline J. Howard, ANC

Posted at May 17 2011 11:45 PM | Updated as of May 18 2011 07:45 AM

MANILA, Philippines - Officials of the Bureau of Customs (BoC), the Land Transportation Office (LTO) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will be called to attend the house hearing into the smuggling of luxury vehicles in the country, when the House Sub-Committee on Customs, Tariff and other Related Taxes resumes its probe on Monday.

Speaking on ANC's "Headstart," sub-committee chairman Ilocos Norte Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas said they want Customs officials to explain Customs procedures, and those from the LTO to verify whether the vehicles are duly registered or if there may have been a conspiracy to hide the crime.

"(Customs) Commissioner (Angelito) Alvarez, we'll ask him about the procedure... We've also invited the LTO head because may nakasabit na plate sa mga sasakyan. If these don't have documents at all, they could not be registered, and if they were registered, baka may conspiracy nanaman sa LTO."

He said alleged smuggler Allan Bigcas is expected to bring all deeds of titles of the vehicles to Monday's hearing.

Bigcas had disassembled several high-end vehicles and shipped them to the Philippines in boxes without the benefit of documents or proper registration. Seven of the 25 vehicles were found to have been stolen.

"Under our laws if you are the possessor of a stolen vehicle, you are presumed to be the author of the crime unless you show that you bought it in good faith. Pwedeng buyer in good faith siya but he was a smuggler of this vehicle."

On Monday, Bigcas admitted to violating Customs laws but said he was not aware of it.

Fariñas said Bigcas failed to declare he was bringing vehicles into the country and did not pay the necessary taxes by passing them off as personal effects.

Bigcas, a Filipino citizen who claims to be a greencard holder, claims to be a forwarder in the U.S., but has neither a business in the Philippines, a trade name or license to show for it.

Fariñas noted that one of the people listed in the "black book," lawyer (Noa) Dimaporo, a deputy collector of a container port in Mindanao, has been placed on floating status after he was found listed for asking Bigcas about the price of guns.

He said Dimaporo can be administratively liable for conduct prejudicial to the service because of his name's inclusion.

Blackbook

Fariñas, however, added that they are keeping the names of other people Bigcas had dealt with secret for now so as not to preempt their investigation.

He said the NBI can file charges against Bigcas for violating customs laws and technical smuggling, adding the BIR could also run after him for tax evasion.

"We're giving the NBI time to build the case because if we show it to the public those who are listed may be able to come up with alibis... In due time this well all be revealed because these will all become public documents when the NBI uses it as evidence."

He noted that the Justice Department may have some explaining of its own to do after after it turned-over to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, the motorbike of Hollywood writer Skip Woods -- an evidence in the case.

Bigcas claimed to have bought the custom-made bike 3 years ago for $30,000. The motorbike, priced at $80,000, was stolen only a year ago.

"We also want the DOJ to answer why they returned the motorbike of Skip Woods to the Americans. That motorcycle is the subject of a warrant of the BOC and it wasn't consulted, yet the NBI gave the bike back to U.S. authorities. Parang may palakasan rin. The NBI said the FBI made an undertaking they would return it if needed... but that's already a violation of our sovereignty."

Review of laws

Pending results of the probe, Fariñas said there is a need to review the country's Customs laws, including the policy of balikbayan boxes. He admitted that poor enforcement is to blame for the prolifiration of smuggling activities.

He adds, they are in the process of drafting the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act as well as the Anti-Smuggling Bill to ensure the necessary customs checks are in place.

"We need to look into operations of customs because we purchased expensive machines for $7B."

Farinas said they are mulling pushing for a random x-ray check of container vans. He adds it is critical to show government is serious about making people involved in "shenanigans" accountable to help curb smuggling in the country.

Amid an existing Supreme Court ruling against the importation of motor vehicles, Farinas added that they may review the case of Port Irene. There is a pending case over its authority to receive motor vehicles into the economic zone.