Customs Foils Subic Rice Smuggling

Manila Bulletin - 22 July 2012

MANILA, Philippines — The seizure by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) of thousands of imported bags of rice last June at the Subic Freeport is just the tip of the iceberg.

The BOC, which showed the bags of rice to the media Friday, said that there are close to half a million bags of rice impounded at the Subic Freeport, which could be the largest smuggled rice interception by the agency under the Aquino government.

Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon ordered Customs agents assigned in Subic to identify those responsible for the undocumented shipment, which could have put many local farmers out of business.

“I ordered my personnel in Subic to look into the shipment, which arrived in April this year,” Biazon said.

Some 420,000 sacks of rice, shipped as bulk, were impounded after it was found out that they did not have the necessary import entry from the BOC and the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, the agency that oversees the Freeport.

The April illegal shipment was 10 times bigger than the seizure in June where 45,000 sacks of rice, with an estimated value of P42.5 million, were improperly declared as construction materials.

It was not clear where the 420,000 smuggled rice came from, but local farmers have been complaining that the market is being flooded by imported rice to the detriment of their own produce.

With the glut in imported rice, farmers are forced to sell their rice at a less competitive price, resulting to losses with the increasing cost of fertilizers.

In two instances last June, two importers found their separate rice shipments frozen for misdeclaration.

The shipment, stacked in 90 twenty-footer container vans, were allegedly consigned to Masagana Import Export Inc., of Binan, Laguna and Oriental Tradelink Express Inc. of the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. The rice reportedly came from Vietnam.

The container vans were opened Friday at Subic's New Container Terminal in the presence of Biazon, district collector Carmelita Talusan and other BOC officials.

“This is a large-scale attempt to smuggle rice into the country by misdeclaring the illegal shipment of rice which, had it not been for our alert customs operatives, could have affected the livelihood of many of our local farmers,” Biazon said.

“We will pursue charges against those involved in this attempt,” he vowed.

Misdeclaration of goods is a violation under the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines.

Rice importation is prohibited, unless undertaken by the National Food Authority (NFA) or when it is made by individuals or firms duly authorized by the NFA.