Congress tackles smuggling after recess

The country’s rampant agricultural smuggling, blamed for the soaring prices of essential commodities, will be among the top on the list of Congress in its comeback session after a month-long recess from the holidays.

Approximately 40 officials from the Department of Finance and the Bureau of Customs will be summoned before the House ways and means committee on Monday about the alleged presence of big-time smugglers at the Manila International Container Port, Batangas and Subic Port.

The illicit scheme where a whooping million-peso worth of products was first seized in the said ports of entry has prompted the Congressional probe, said Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, the panel chair.
“We are prepared to name names at the proper time. For now, we will protect our sources,” he said.

Citing four separate illicit shipments in December alone, Salceda said Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno and Customs Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz have a lot to explain regarding the sordid practice, which he deemed “unacceptable,” as this is where corruption and destruction of the local industry emanates.

Sought for comment, Daily Tribune has reached out to Ruiz, but he has yet to respond.

Earlier this month, the House joined the fight against the sordid practice that undercuts local farmers and arrests market prices by tightening the noose on those reaping multi-billion-peso profits at the expense of consumers.

Salceda likewise disclosed that the lower chamber intends to take action against agricultural smugglers by forming an independent panel, such as the Institute for Solidarity in Asia, to determine what changes it can bring to the BoC’s enforcement of measures against illicit imports.

Apart from the four seizures of smuggled agricultural products in Subic in December alone, 7,000 metric tons of smuggled sugar was also intercepted in Subic in August of last year, which is said to be a sign of “large-scale” smuggling of contraband in such areas.

The economist-lawmaker also noted that there are reports that three to four big-time smugglers are operating in the Port of Manila, MICP, Subic and Batangas, with one of them using the alias “Amina” and allegedly having strong ties to the DoF and the BoC.

Salceda said “Amina” is the reputed “queen of smuggling” in the ports of Subic, MICP and Batangas, where she transports dubious cargo.

The House will also look into alleged collusion between corrupt government officials and local consignees, as they were linked to smugglers to transport contraband.

Proposed legislation that would soon slap public officials found to be participating in agricultural smuggling with face harsher penalties, including perpetual absolute prohibition from holding office, is still mustering support in the Lower House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture and Food.

Senator Raffy Tulfo, on the other hand, did not think twice to name at least nine personalities allegedly involved in ‘big-time’ oil smuggling activities in the country.

Tulfo made this revelation during the Senate committee on energy consultation meeting with the Department of Energy, Energy Regulatory Commission, Philippine National Oil Company, Department of Finance, Bureau of Internal Revenue, Department of Environment and Natural Resources and BoC.

According to Tulfo, Don Rabonza, who is well-known in Navotas, is involved in sugar smuggling from Hong Kong.

He added that Sonny Qiu, Jackie Chu, Aron Uy and Lyndon Tan are running oil smuggling in Batangas and Sariaya; while Alex Chua, Bogs Violago, Jong Mangundadatu and Dondon Alahas are operating in Mariveles, Bataan.

Meanwhile, BoC spokesperson Arnaldo de la Torre, during the Laging Handa Public Briefing on Thursday, said the BoC heeded the call of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to digitize its process to curb smuggling.

“We welcome the suggestion of the President for digitization, although all transactions in the Bureau are 92 percent digitized to intensify the campaign against smuggling and improve and generate more revenue collections,” he said.

Last year, BoC Commissioner Ruiz said they expect to fully digitalize its processes and operations by the first quarter of 2023 to improve efficiency and curb corruption in the government, as the BoC was on track in the system overhaul to increase productivity and efficiency.

Already 91 percent or 155 of 170 Customs processes have been automated to boost trade facilitation and ensure transparent delivery of government services.

The World Bank is supporting the digitalization of the BoC through $88.28 million in financing for the Philippine Customs Modernization Program.

With RAFFY AYENG and LADE KABAGANI


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