Customs Chief to farmers: we will not back down vs smugglers



Feb. 27, 2014





Customs Commissioner John Sevilla committed to farmers groups that the agency will continue the aggressive drive against smugglers, as an estimated 70 farmers representing various groups across the country rallied outside the Bureau of Customs to ask for swift action against rice smuggling. The farmers expressed their support for the BOC on the back of a recent TRO issued by the Supreme Court that allows the agency to seize illegal rice importations and amidst on-going court-cases questioning the authority of the BOC to continue to hold containers of rice that arrived in the country without the required permits.

Sevilla, along with Deputy Commissioner Jessie Dellosa, met with leaders of the different farmer organizations, coordinated by Alyansa Agrikultura and R1 (Rice Watch and Action Network) to discuss the extent and effect on farmers of the smuggling of rice and other agricultural products as well as other initiatives for cooperation such as information sharing.

Ikinatutuwa ko itong pagkakataong makipag-dayalogo sa ating mga kapatid na magsasaka. Ngayon nakita natin ang mukha at buhay sa likod ng nakapipinsalang epekto ng smuggling. Sa bawat conatiner ng bigas na pinapasok nang walang kauuklang pahintulot, tinatayang sampung magsasaka ang nawawalan ng pagkakataon maghanap-buhay,” Sevilla stressed.

Nakikiisa ako sa ating mga kapatid na magsasaka na nais masugpo ang smuggling. Nais nating panagutin ang lahat—maging importer man o kawani ng Bureau. Bukod dito, mayroon din kaming mga ilulunsad na inisyatibo na magbibigay ng impormasyon, tulad ng Inward Foreign Manifest, sa ating mga kasama sa DA at DTI. Ipagpapatuloy namin ang pagsasapubliko ng impormasyon tulad ng import entries na maaring gamitin ng publiko para ituro ang tamang halaga ng iba’t-ibang produkto, at maituro ang mga smuggler, hindi lamang ng produktong pang-agrikultura kundi pati na rin ibang produkto.

The Bureau of Customs and the Department of Agriculture, represented by the Office of the Solicitor General, has a pending Petition for Certiorari before the Supreme Court which maintains that rice importers must still secure valid import permits from the NFA as provided under present Philippine laws.

Republic Act No. 8178 or the “Agricultural Tarrification Act” and Presidential Decree No. 4 or the “National Grains Authority Act” both state that the NFA has the authority to require a rice importer to secure an import permit as a pre-condition for rice importation.  These permits are intended to regulate the domestic supply of rice pursuant to the Philippines’ food security policy. Since these laws have not been repealed, the BOC and the DA argued that importers that fail to comply with the requirements provided have no authority to import rice. They will, therefore, be considered engaged in unlawful importation under the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines. Accordingly, the rice imported without permit are considered smuggled goods and should be seized in favor of the government. In this regard, under customs laws, the BOC has exclusive jurisdiction over seizure and forfeiture proceedings.  Courts are prohibited from issuing injunctions against such BOC action.

In his December 2013 order, Davao RTC Branch 16 Judge Emmanuel Carpio agreed with businessman Joseph Ngo that import permits are no longer required for rice importations upon the expiration of the Philippines’ Special Treatment on rice under the World Trade Organization (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture on June 2012. Ngo filed a case before the Davao RTC after learning that the rice shipments he purchased from Starcraft International Trading Corporation were placed on hold by the BOC-Port of Davao.

However, the BOC and DA argued that while the last extension of the Philippines’ Special Treatment on rice ended in June 2012, it did not automatically result to the expiration of its minimum market access commitments (MMAs) under the WTO.  The MMAs are the basis for imposing quantitative restrictions to rice imports set by the NFA.  Through these MMAs, the WTO recognizes the food security policy of the Philippines.

The petition furthered that the 2006 Extension Agreement with the WTO extending the Special Treatment on rice for the Philippines to June 2012 simply “provides only the following effects upon the lapse of the Special Treatment: (1) the Minimum Market Access (MMA) commitment of the Philippines in force at the time of such cessation (or 350,000 MT) will continue to be applied; and (2) the aggregate Country Specific Quotas (CSQs) becomes applicable on a Most Favored Nation (MFN) basis.”

The Philippines is presently negotiating with several WTO Member States for a waiver of its obligations under the WTO Agreement on Agriculture to reform its agricultural trade policy with respect to rice. The on-going negotiations for the Philippine waiver as well as the favorable attitude of the WTO Council for Trade in Goods on these talks, the BOC and the DA maintained, “show a willingness on the part of Member States to acquiesce to the continued application of the Special Treatment until a decision has been reached on the request.”
Both the BOC and DA argued that the injunction issued by Carpio interfered with the right of the government to regulate the domestic supply of rice and the Philippines’ ongoing negotiations under the WTO.

Napakaliwanag na sa lahat na pag walang import permit equals smuggling equals bawal ipasok,” Sevilla added.

The BOC and the DA urged the Supreme Court to put a stop to the practice of rice importers to seek injunctions in courts against the BOC.  It is not only contrary to law, but is also causing the massive hemorrhaging of the Philippine rice industry with the unfair competition brought about by the entry of smuggled rice.






Next R1 News | Back to R1 in the News Page





Rice Watch and Action Network

© 2007 All Rights Reserved