P1.2-B rice shipment seized in Cebu
MANILA, Philippines—Amid calls for his head for allegedly failing to stop smuggling, Commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon on Friday disclosed that the Bureau of Customs had foiled an attempt to smuggle into the country rice worth P1.2 billion through the Port of Cebu.
Biazon announced the interception to counter “accusations that we are making the Philippines the smuggling capital of Asia.”
“Once again, we’d like to reiterate that that is the opinion of just one person,” Biazon said in a press briefing.
Abono party-list chair Rosendo So earlier called on Biazon to resign over the continued rampant smuggling of agricultural products.
Petron Corp. chair Ramon Ang last week said one in every three liters of gasoline or diesel sold in the country was smuggled.
To see Aquino
Biazon said he had yet to see President Aquino, but he had requested a meeting for a discussion of the reports of smuggling and future plans for the customs bureau.
“I would just focus on the issues at hand. I consider the issue of destabilization on my leadership and personalities connected there as a side issue,” Biazon said.
He said he would visit the Port of Cebu next week to inspect around 1,000 6-meter containers that arrived there over two weeks, from March 22 to April 3.
The freight boxes are believed to be loaded with rice, but customs officials have not inspected all of them, he said.
“But initial information makes us believe [all the containers are loaded with] misdeclared rice,” he said.
The customs bureau has not yet issued a warrant for the seizure of the shipment, but an alert has been issued to prevent it from leaving the port, he said.
Biazon said the shipment papers showed the freight boxes contained stone and granite slabs and ceiling insulators from Vietnam.
But customs agents became suspicious after profiling the shipment and noticed a discrepancy between the declared shipment and the actual weight.
Inspection of several freight boxes showed they contained rice, Biazon said.
All of the containers were consigned to nine people, whom Biazon did not identify.
“We haven’t identified the owners. There are several consignees but no one has filed for entry yet,” he said.
“We issued an official alert, as far as the bureau is concerned, it’s already confiscated even if there’s no [warrant] yet,” he added.
No import permit
The government could have collected P600 million in duties on the rice shipment, Biazon said, but the National Food Authority said there was no allocation for rice imports from Vietnam so it could not issue an import permit.
Biazon said the rice was most likely intended for sale in Cebu, as the province does not grow rice.
“We have intensified our antismuggling efforts and it is bearing fruit,” he said.