Customs, DA officials, mayors tagged in agri smuggling

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 27 2022 11:05 PM | Updated as of Jun 28 2022 09:13 PM

MANILA (UPDATED) - At least three ranking officials of the Department of Agriculture, five from the Bureau of Customs, and two local officials were among those named in a Senate report as the "alleged protectors and smugglers of agricultural products in the country."

The report was forwarded to Senate President Vicente Sotto III on May 17, 2022, or more than a month after the Senate Committee of the Whole ended its investigation on the non-stop entry of smuggled agricultural products in the country.

In the "validated list" included in the Senate COW’s Committee Report 649, the following were accused of being alleged protectors and smugglers of agricultural products:

  • Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan – DA Central Office
  • Director George Culaste – Bureau of Plant Industry
  • Director Eduardo Gongona – Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources
  • Laarni Roxas – Bureau of Plant Industry-PQSD (Region 3) 
  • Commissioner Leonardo Guerrero – Bureau of Customs
  • Raniel Ramiro – Deputy Commissioner, BOC Intelligence Group
  • Atty. Vener Baquiran – Deputy Commissioner, Revenue Collection and Monitoring Group
  • Director Geofrey Tacio – Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service
  • Atty. Yasser Abbas – Import and Assessment

The list also tagged a certain Toby Tiangco as "BFAR products, smuggling protector."

There was also one "Mayor Jun Diamante" followed by the words “all agri products playing in port of Davao, CDO, Cebu, Subic."

Sotto, in a text statement, said he is "saddened" by the inclusion of Tiangco’s name.

"Ikinalulungkot ko pero 'yun ang submit sa akin. Not my list. Pwede rin kapangalan lang dahil 'di nakalagay mayor unlike the other mayor listed," Sotto said.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar asked the public to give the named DA officials the chance to present their side.

"Let the three officials named in the report face their accusers, present their respective evidence to disprove the allegations, and defend themselves in the proper courts," Dar said.

Tiangco, in a phone interview, has his own theory as to why he was included in the intelligence report.

"As early as September 28, 2020, sumulat na ako kay Secretary Dar, informing him of the smuggled BFAR products sold in markets in Navotas... at in-enumerate ko sa kanya kung papano nagi-smuggle. Sinend (send) ko sa kanya. Awa ng Diyos hanggang ngayon hindi pa siya sumasagot kahit anong yes, no. Pero received by his office," Tiangco said.

Tiangco said he reported the matter to the DA because the livelihood of his constituents who rely on fishing are affected by smuggling activities.

He said the DA’s inaction prompted him to take action by conducting a series of raids on smuggled products.

"From the DOJ records, from 2016 to 2021, sa buong Pilipinas, there are only four cases of anti-agricultural smuggling to be found with probable cause… ang hindi na-mention sa report na yun is, two of those cases are cases filed by the local government of Navotas,” Tiangco pointed out.

“Ang na-realize ko kasi dito nung ako naghuhuli nito, masyado siyang kalat sa maraming ahensya. Madami talagang nakapatong. So kung sa tingin nila dyan sa supposed intelligence report eh sisiraan nila ako, hihinto ako, hindi ako hihinto… sindikato yan eh. Sindikato na ang daming nakapatong sa madaming ahensya ng gobyerno… ako pa tatakutin nila?” Tiangco added.

The outgoing mayor, who will return as the city’s congressman in the incoming Congress, said he will continue to conduct raids.
 
Tiangco believes those who were hit by his raids are the ones behind that so-called intelligence report which he noted, came out a month after the Senate’s investigation.

"It is ironic that the I am identified as an alleged protector, when two (2) out of the total 4 cases in the whole Philippines with probable cause were filed by the City Government of Navotas as the complainant," he said in a separate statement.

"As we continue this fight against these illegal smugglers, I have realized they are entrenched in a lot of agencies of government, kaya walang gumagalaw at ang trabaho nang paghuli na dapat ginagawa ng national government kami na ang gumagawa," Tiangco added.

Tiangco also expressed readiness to face the Senate if the upper chamber wants to reopen the investigation.

"As a final message to those who think that by trying to destroy my name, I will stop running after them, manigas kayo. Hindi ako hihinto," he said.

Tiangco said he will ask the House of Representatives to conduct its own investigation upon his assumption into office.

Guerrero and Tacio, in separate statements, also vehemently denied the allegations against them.

"The Senate Committee report citing me as one of the government officials involved in agricultural smuggling also contains the numerous accomplishments of BOC in its campaign against agricultural smuggling, and the adoption of the executive recommendations, which I directed," Guerrero said.

"I strongly take exception to my inclusion in the list of alleged protectors of unscrupulous personalities involved in the smuggling of agricultural products mentioned in the Senate Committee Report. I vehemently deny that I am a coddler of smugglers. In fact, the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service," Tacio said. 

Meanwhile, Senate COW’s Committee Report 649 recommends the following steps to combat smuggling of agricultural products:

  • Strengthen and rationalize inter-agency collaboration. All concerned agencies should have the authority and capacity to act expediently and effectively
  • Allocate more resources to law enforcement agencies tasked to address smuggling
  • Remove human intervention that provides an avenue for negotiation by fully digitalizing/automating trade transactions and monitoring not only on centralized database but also on import processes, request for inspection, etc.
  • Automatic delisting of offenders
  • Provide trainings for all agencies concerned in relation to technical capabilities in determining quality, description, and types of agricultural commodities
  • Set up meeting with private sector for the latter to give solutions
  • Require pre-shipment inspection for all agricultural products
  • Institutionalize Sub-Task Force of Economic Intelligence which will create greater effectiveness because of inter-agency cooperation between STG-EI and BOC
  • Require importer to provide full specifications of their imported goods
  • Disallow importation of offal but only allow importation of “good meat.”

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