MANILA, Philippines—Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon has neither confirmed nor denied the party-list group Abono’s claim that major ports in the Visayas and Mindanao were being used in the rampant smuggling of rice from China and Vietnam.
In a text message to the Inquirer on Monday, Biazon said that “issuing press statements with general allegations only serve to instigate a word war between us.”
He said this did not contribute to the campaign against smuggling.
“As I have repeatedly told them, if they have specific details and information about suspect rice shipments, it is better if they share them with me directly so I can mobilize to act on them,” he added.
Biazon said the BOC’s track record under his leadership would show his openness to cooperation, which leads to concrete results.
In a statement, Abono last weekend asked Malacañang to reorganize the BOC due to the agency’s failure to stop rice smuggling.
It said rice shipments from China and Vietnam were unloaded at various ports in the Visayas and Mindanao.
“Smuggled rice has flooded the market, reaching Nueva Ecija, Baguio, Pangasinan, La Union and even Isabela, the rice granary of the Philippines,” said Abono, which represents farmers and agriculture stakeholders in Congress.
The group said rice distribution usually started from northern and Central Luzon provinces to Metro Manila. From the metropolis, the rice is shipped to the cities of Cebu, Cagayan de Oro and Davao.
But with smuggled rice, the grains are shipped from the three southern cities to Central Luzon and transported to northern Luzon.
According to Abono, the smuggled rice was usually declared as waste metal, wooden panels, tiles or used clothing.
Biazon has repeatedly said the Bureau of Customs’ (BOC) “Run After the Smugglers,” or RATS, campaign was a “work in progress.”
He pointed to the BOC’s recent seizure of 420,000 50-kilo bags of Indian rice that were abandoned at the Subic Bay Freeport as the agency’s “biggest smuggled rice haul.”
“Had we not stopped the illegal rice importation, it could have caused tremendous damage to our local farmers. Add to that other illegal rice importations, like the Vietnamese rice shipment seized at the Legazpi port,” he said.
The bureau, he vowed, would never allow unscrupulous traders to exploit the privileges offered by the country’s various free trade zones, like the Port of Subic, to be their staging points for smuggling.
Biazon earlier acknowledged that smuggling was “one of the biggest problems facing the Bureau of Customs.”
However, he said it was “not true that we’re not addressing the problem.”