Davao judge sued at SC for release of ‘hot’ rice
MANILA, Philippines—A group of farm producers has filed a case in the Supreme Court against the Davao judge who issued an injunction that allowed the release of an imported rice shipment earlier seized by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) for not having an import permit.
Rosendo So, chair of Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag), filed the complaint against Davao City’s Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 16 Judge Emmanuel Carpio Jr. for “grave misconduct” and “knowingly rendering unjust judgment” by issuing the injunction that led to the release of the imported rice.
The BOC, which earlier held the imported rice shipment of Starcraft International reportedly sold to Joseph Ngo, was forced to release part of the shipment because of the court injunction.
Part of the shipment covered in nine bills of lading was released last month.
The complaint relates to a batch of 167 containers of Vietnam rice that the Davao City RTC ordered released last December. The shipment is part of a total of 2,000 containers of seized rice imports that Sinag believes accounts for 50,000 metric tons.
Carpio issued the same month an order enjoining the BOC from implementing any alert order, hold orders and issuances to retain Ngo’s rice shipments and doing any acts that would prejudice Ngo.
Carpio also issued a writ of preliminary injunction against the customs collector at the Davao port.
Sinag pointed out that the BOC at the port took possession of the rice shipment and refused to release it to Ngo because the rice importation was done without an import permit from the National Food Authority (NFA).
But Ngo filed an application for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction to stop the BOC from seizing his shipment.
During a court hearing, BOC lawyers said they were still waiting for a legal opinion from Manila on the NFA import permits.
Sinag said Carpio issued an order when it was “clear” that the BOC was trying to obtain a legal opinion that an import permit from the NFA was required for all rice importation pursuant to the special treatment granted by the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The group said Carpio acted beyond his jurisdiction and that the BOC was just exercising its mandate, provided by Section 602 of Republic Act No. 1937, or the Tariff and Customs Code, to prevent smuggling.
Although the special treatment of Philippine rice granted by WTO expired in June 2012, the government has filed a petition asking for its extension until 2017, Sinag said.
“It is undisputed that the import permit from the NFA was previously required for all rice importation pursuant to the special treatment granted by the WTO,” the group said.
“Upon the expiration of the special treatment, the Philippine government filed an appeal to extend the validity of the special treatment until 2017,” the complaint said.
“Considering that the country’s status regarding the special treatment is still in limbo and considering the public’s clamor against rice smuggling, it was proper for BOC to implement the procedure, which it has long been adopted, unless directed by the customs commissioner,” Sinag said.
The complaint also cited a provision in RA 1937, which provides that the aggrieved party can appeal the collector’s decision to seize or hold a shipment only to the customs commissioner. But once the customs commissioner issues a decision, the decision can be appealed in the Court of Appeals.
“It was apparent that the respondent exceeded his jurisdiction when he issued the Dec. 12 order, and the writ of preliminary injunction on Dec. 13 last year,” said So.
The complaint also cited the case of Rallos et al. vs Judge Ireneo Lee Gako Jr. in which the Supreme Court ruled: “Well-settled is the rule that the trial court has no jurisdiction over the property subject of the warrant of seizure and detention issued by the Bureau of Customs.”
“The Bureau of Customs has exclusive jurisdiction over the subject matter of the hold order dated 5 November 2013,” Sinag said.
“By issuing the writ of preliminary injunction, the respondent exercised a power that he did not have and encroached upon the exclusive original jurisdiction of the collector of customs,” the group said.
Warning to magistrates
In a statement, So said: “Let this be a stern warning to all other magistrates who have similar cases pending in their courts.”
“We will hold them liable for rulings that encourage smuggling of rice and other agricultural commodities,” he added.
So said Sinag filed the case so that smugglers would not be further emboldened with favorable trial court rulings.
If Carpio’s order were upheld, the regime on rice importation would turn from “no permit, no import” to “no permit, no problem,” the Sinag chair said.
“There’ll be no stopping the entry of smuggled rice and other agricultural commodities because smugglers need only to turn to the courts whenever their contraband is apprehended,” he said.—With a report from Ronnel W. Domingo
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