Gov’t asked: Why still no rice smugglers charged?
Sen. Francis Escudero on Thursday challenged the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to file criminal charges against suspected hoarders and smugglers of rice to bolster the government’s crackdown against the alleged rice cartel in the country.
Escudero said he was baffled by the BOC’s delay in filing charges against owners of warehouses that were targeted in the recent series of raids on suspicion that these were involved in rice smuggling and hoarding.
“A crime definitely took place. And I am wondering why there is a crime but still no criminals at this time?” Escudero asked.
Escudero made the remark following the string of raids on rice warehouses in Cavite province and Las Piñas City by the BOC, the latest of which netted an estimated P40 million worth of suspected smuggled rice from Vietnam, Thailand and China.
Last week, the BOC also reported having seized more than 42,000 sacks of rice worth about P44 million from a warehouse in Zamboanga City.
The senator noted that President Marcos has already started the distribution of the seized smuggled rice on Wednesday in Zamboanga City to some 3,000 indigent beneficiaries under the administration’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, and yet BOC officials “appear to be slow” in filing criminal cases.
“I have yet to hear a name that is responsible for the hoarding of the rice that BOC has raided. And why is it that not a single case has been filed against any individual, much less the disclosure of their names?” the senator said.
The crackdown on rice hoarding came after the President imposed a price cap on the Filipino staple early this month and directed the BOC to raid suspected warehouses to combat hoarding and smuggling.
It’s been 3 weeks
“It has been three weeks since (the Zamboanga raid), but why is there a seeming utter silence on the filing of charges against those involved?” the senator noted.
According to Escudero, the BOC should file criminal cases against suspects for violation of Republic Act No. 10845, or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.
He said the law considers smuggling of agricultural products as economic sabotage if it 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 [BOC].”
“I have said this before and I will say it again: our campaign should not end with raids alone; we should file charges against all those responsible,” Escudero said.
“In simple language, there could not be a crime without a criminal. With all the raids that [the BOC] had conducted, with all the voluminous stocks of rice seized which had been tagged as an act of hoarding, why has no one been charged?” the lawmaker added.
On Wednesday, Escudero already aired his disappointment over the supposed failure of the BOC to file cases when the Senate plenary tackled the committee report on Senate Bill No. 2432, which seeks to define the crimes of agricultural economic sabotage, provide penalties, and create an inter-agency council to implement the law.
Mr. Marcos has asked the Senate to prioritize the passage of the measure, certifying it as urgent on Wednesday through a letter addressed to Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri.
“The need to facilitate the passage of this important piece of legislation is imperative, especially now that the country is beset by rising prices and shortages in agricultural products, partly due to the nefarious acts of smuggling, hoarding, profiteering and cartel,” Mr. Marcos said in his letter.
“It will also promote the productivity of the agriculture sector, protect farmers and fisherfolk from unscrupulous traders and imports, and ensure reasonable and affordable prices of agricultural and fishery products for consumers,” he added.
The bill is undergoing interpellation in the Senate, while its counterpart version in the House of Representatives is being finalized by a technical working group.
SB 2432 defines agriculture economic sabotage as “any act or activity that disrupts the economy by creating artificial shortage, promoting excessive importation, manipulating prices and supply, evading payment or underpayment of tariffs and customs duties, threatening local food production and food security, gaining excessive or exorbitant profits by exploiting situations, creating scarcity, and entering into agreements that defeat fair competition to the prejudice of the public.”
The bill creates the Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Council, to be chaired by the President, to ensure the implementation of the measure and formulate a national plan to address and counter agricultural economic sabotage crimes, among other functions.
The body will also have the power to deputize and enlist the assistance of government agencies in going after persons involved in agricultural economic sabotage, direct the speedy investigation and prosecution of the suspects, and freeze their funds, assets and records.
The council’s members are the agriculture, trade, justice, finance, interior and transportation departments, the Anti-Money Laundering Council, the Philippine Competition Commission, and representatives of six agricultural sectors, namely sugar, rice and corn, livestock and poultry, vegetables and fruit, fisheries and other aquatic products, and tobacco.
The bill imposes the penalty of life imprisonment on economic sabotage with a fine thrice the value of the agricultural and fishery products involved in the crime.