Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña ordered two Bureau of Customs (BoC) officials in Zamboanga City suspended after an upset President Rodrigo Duterte directed a probe on the 23,015 sacks of confiscated smuggled rice that went missing.
“The President was visibly upset with the missing sacks of smuggled rice in Zamboanga City,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
“Mr. Duterte had ordered an immediate investigation of this incident and that instructions were given to both the National Food Authority (NFA) officer-in-charge and the Customs commissioner to place on preventive suspension individuals who may be part of this scheme,” Roque added.
Roque said Zamboanga district collector Lyceo Martinez and Customs police district commander Filomeno Salazar were placed on “administrative relief” by Lapeña as a result of Mr. Duterte’s order.
Roque said the two BoC officials were suspended so they cannot “tamper with evidence and cannot influence the investigation.”
Lapeña reported the BoC has deployed a team in Zamboanga City to investigate how the smuggled rice was taken from the government warehouse.
Authorities have so far recovered 16,000 sacks of the 23,015 smuggled rice from privately owned warehouses.
Roque said the government had taken actions to recover the missing rice at the Port of Zamboanga.
“Last 1 October, the government launched efforts to recover 5,000 sacks of rice from the Basulta Traders Corp warehouse,” Roque said.
“On 2 October, 3,000 sacks of rice were seized from Suterville Warehouse Manga Drive and another 8,000 sacks from Kasanyangan Compound, Sta. Catalina,” he added.
Authorities are studying the liability of the owners of these warehouses that stored the smuggled rice, Roque said, adding the government is now undertaking an inventory of the recovered smuggled rice.
Roque said the President was incensed at the brazen way that the smuggled rice was lost from the government warehouse.
“It’s incredible. Obviously it cannot be done in a clandestine manner. Everyone must have seen how these sacks were taken,” he said.
“Investigation is ongoing but I think it is obvious because both agencies have some jurisdiction over apprehended smuggled rice that both officials of customs and NFA probably have liabilities in this,” he said.
Last 22 September, three wooden-hulled ferry boats loaded with the smuggled rice were intercepted off Zamboanga City.
The three vessels were held near the shore of Barangay Baliwasan.
Lieutenant Commander Noriel Ramos, Zamboanga Coast Guard station commander, said the apprehending team was composed of personnel from the Coast Guard Southwestern Mindanao District, Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, military and police.
The vessels all had Bongao, Tawi-Tawi, as homeport. Ramos said the vessels were each loaded with sacks of rice believed to have come from Malaysia.