Cargo of 50 missing containers found
He wants to finish what he started before he goes.
After exposing the disappearance of 1,910 container vans while en route from the Port of Manila to the Batangas port, Customs Commissioner Angelito Alvarez is determined to go after the culprits.
Accompanied by operatives of the Bureau of Customs, Alvarez on Friday led a raid on a Caloocan City warehouse where the cargos of 50 of the missing container vans are believed hidden.
The raid on the warehouse located on No. 63 C-3 Road, in Dagat-dagatan, Caloocan City, yielded P50 million worth of allegedly smuggled sugar and rice believed to be part of the cargo of the missing container vans.
Alvarez said the sacks of rice and sugar came from 50 of the 1,910 container vans that went missing from the Port of Manila and the Manila International Container Port early this year.
The sugar and rice, said to be imported from Thailand and Vietnam, were valued at between P40 million and P50 million. They will temporarily be stored at the warehouses of the National Food Authority.
Alvarez said the BOC has yet to check if proper duties and taxes—around P20 million—were paid for the rice and sugar and if the importations were supported by import permits.
“If [the warehouse owner] failed to pay the correct duties and taxes and there was no import permit then we would seize the shipment and auctioned in favor of the government,” he told reporters.
Alvarez identified the warehouse owner as a certain Sonny Angeles but the bureau was still validating this “raw” information.
The warehouse owner, who has been leasing the place, was invited for investigation at the BOC headquarters on Monday, he said.
“I am hopeful these goods will be forfeited in favor of the government so we can raise bigger revenues,” Alvarez said.
The Customs chief also disclosed that BOC agents discovered another alleged malpractice at the warehouse: The rice and the sugar were being repacked to make it appear that they were locally produced and made to look that they came from Isabela province.
“We would call for the operator of the warehouse to shed light on this anomaly. We want to know who hired his services and whether these sugar and rice bags would be delivered to a market or a supermarket,” he asked.
Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) Intelligence Division chief Joey Yuchongco conducted the raid after Alvarez issued the mission order.
“I instructed Yuchongco to look for the records [of the 1,910 container vans] to determine the trucking company used, the plate number of the truck and the name of the driver,” the Customs chief added.
Yuchongco said they conducted a week-long surveillance on the warehouse before the raid.
Alvarez said witnesses interviewed by BOC investigators pointed to the whereabouts of the missing cargos that were reportedly stored at No. 63 Circumferential Road 3, Dagat-Dagatan, Caloocan.
Alvarez said a logbook at the warehouse showed the registration numbers of the container vans used to transport the rice and sugar. The numbers were counter-checked with the BOC’s list of the missing container vans and, according to Alvarez, it was discovered that 50 of them matched with those used to unload the cargo at the warehouse between the March and May this year.
“These shipments should have been brought to Batangas, but they were brought instead to the Caloocan warehouse,” he said.
The discovery of the missing container vans was a major reason behind President Aquino’s decision to replace Alvarez, whose successor has yet to be named.
Of the total of 2,219 containers covered by transhipment permits and processed between January to May this year, only 309 arrived in their common destination—the Port of Batangas.
Alvarez, who was appointed 14 months ago, said container vans have apparently been going missing from the Manila ports for several years. He said he discovered that in 2010 alone, a total of 3,656 container vans could not be accounted for.
With only a week to go before his exit from the Bureau of Customs, Alvarez has intensified his crackdown against smugglers.
The raid on the Caloocan warehouse came a day after the BOC filed a P4.1 billion smuggling case against the senior executive and two brokers of an oil company.
But his efforts may be perceived as a little too late as Mr. Aquino announced two weeks ago that he has decided to replace Alvarez since he was not happy with the latter’s performance.
Asked if he was still hoping Mr. Aquino might still change his mind, Alvarez answered with a firm “No” saying he was just performing his job and “serving at the pleasure of the President.”
He described Friday’s raid as the “tip of an iceberg” as BOC teams were readying to swoop down on more warehouses suspected of hiding the smuggled products in the coming days.