What can stop rice smuggling? Marcos says DOJ's legal opinion


MANILA - Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. on Sunday urged the Department of Justice (DoJ) to immediately issue a definitive legal opinion on expired restrictions on rice importation under World Trade Organization (WTO) being used by traders to smuggle rice even without an import permit from the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Marcos said the DOJ should come out as soon as possible with a definitive legal opinion not only on the issue of jurisdiction but also whether the Philippines can still impose rice importation quotas.

“I have to echo on the necessity of an opinion from the DOJ because napapaikutan tayo rito dahil (they are able to run circles around us). Clearly they are hiding behind these gray areas and we are putting the BOC (Bureau of Customs) in a very difficult situation,” Marcos said.

BOC traced its legal woes to a Davao court ruling, which said that since the special treatment the WTO gave the Philippines to restrict rice imports expired in June 2012 importers can bring in rice to the country even without a permit.

The ruling was adopted by courts in Manila and Batangas in ordering the release of suspected illegal rice shipments the BOC seized.

But, Marcos said, the BOC should hold on to seized rice shipments that were subject of questionable injunctions issued by various regional trial courts.

He noted that according to the DOJ, the Office of the Solicitor General has already filed a motion for reconsideration of these questionable court orders.

“I believe the BOC can use that as the basis for holding in abeyance its compliance with the court order,” Marcos said.

The senator said the BOC can justify its action with the Supreme Court ruling cited by Justice Secretary Leila De Lima which says that jurisdiction over items seized by the bureau belongs to the Customs Commissioner and not with the RTC.

Masyadong napipinsala ang ating mga magsasaka dahil sa smuggling kaya dapat gawin ng gobyerno ang lahat ng paraan para mapigilan ito (The farmers are terribly affected by smuggling. That’s why our government should do everything to stop this),” Marcos said. 

At a Senate hearing, Customs Commissioner Philip Sevilla bared that as much as 50,000 metric tons of rice monthly may have been smuggled into the country last year.

In an earlier hearing of the Senate Agriculture Committee, BOC officials reported they seized almost 2,000 container vans of smuggled rice last year but some were released due to some questionable court orders.

“It is good to know that Customs officials are doing something to stop the influx of illegal rice shipments and that they are on to the modus operandi of these smugglers,” Marcos said.

“Unfortunately, unless the government can put a serious dent on rice smuggling operations, perception will persist that rice smugglers are in cahoots with corrupt officials from the BOC and other concerned agencies such as the NFA (National Food Authority),” he added.