Escudero prods Customs: Charge rice smugglers
BY BERNADETTE E. TAMAYO
The Manila Times
SEN. Francis Joseph “Chiz” Escudero has challenged the Bureau of Customs (BoC) to charge traders suspected of smuggling and hoarding rice. Escudero said smuggling and hoarding are being blamed for the artificial shortage of rice and the price spikes of the staple in recent months. He chided the BoC for failing to disclose the names of traders and operators whose warehouses were raided on suspicion of storing smuggled rice. “Why haven’t I heard anyone sued for economic sabotage or something? Who owns these warehouses? Who are the people involved?” Escudero said. “We should bring them to the court of justice to prove that this [Marcos Jr.] administration is resolute in its campaign against rice cartel.” Escudero noted that several raids had been made in the past few weeks, but no one among the suspected rice smugglers has been charged. “The public is waiting on the next action of the government. File charges immediately against those concerned,” he said. “This is what they should answer now: who oversees the disposition and how will it be disposed? What will they do with the confiscated rice?” Escudero said. He said the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016 (Republic Act 10845) considers large-scale smuggling of agricultural products as economic sabotage and involves “at least P1 million worth of sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish, and cruciferous vegetables, in their raw state, or which have undergone the simple processes of preparation and preservation for the market, or a minimum of P10 million worth of rice, as valued by the Bureau of Customs.” On September 15, the BoCPort of Zamboanga seized 42,180 sacks of rice worth P42 million in Barangay San Jose Gusu after authorities discovered that the goods were not covered by a sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance from the Bureau of Plant Industry. Two weeks earlier, the BoC inspected three warehouses in Bulacan and found stocks of suspected smuggled imported rice worth P505 million. The warehouses, which were inside the Intercity Industrial Complex in Balagtas, Bulacan, were sealed. Aside from calling for the filing of charges against rice hoarders, Escudero said the government should also update the public on the development of these cases in the spirit of transparency.