COA: Customs officials, importer liable for P381-million tariff on 1998 sugar import

Adrian Ayalin, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jul 17 2019 05:11 PM

MANILA - The Commission on Audit (COA) has ruled that officials of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) in Iloilo and a sugar importation firm are liable for payment of P381.471-million tariff on raw cane sugar released through the Port of Iloilo in 1998 without duties and taxes.

In a decision dated May 23 and signed by COA Chairperson Michael Aguinaldo and Commissioners Jose Fabia and Roland Pondoc, the petition for review of the notice of charge filed by then Customs Operation Officer Salvador Porras was denied for lack of merit.

In the notice of charge, it was noted that raw sugar should have polarization of less than 99.5 degrees.

“However, the shipments, based on the entry documents, contained polarization from 99.67 to 99.81 degrees,” the COA decision said.

Polarization indicates the sucrose content of sugar, among attributes that determine sugar quality.

Among those held liable in the notice of charge aside from Porras were then District Customs Collector Jesus Pepito, Classification and Evaluation Officer Levy Perez, Deputy Collector Jesus Daroy, Customs Operation Officer SG Pabiona, the Philippine International Trading Corporation, and New Frontier Sugar Corporation (NFSC).

Porras said in his petition that there was an error in the interpretation of the reports and other pertinent documents in the classification of the imported sugar.

The then COA Region VI director said that based on examination of documents, Porras and other officials “collaborated” with each other for the release of the imported sugar without customs duties and taxes.

The COA proper noted that there was even a Senate probe in 1998 into the possible connivance to evade taxes among NFSC owner Margarita Sia and the customs officials.

“Prudence dictates that all importation documents must be properly scrutinized, especially when there are conflicting documents that may case doubt as to the true nature of the shipment, such as the case at hand,” the COA decision said.