Customs welcomes TRO on seized smuggled rice
MANILA, Philippines—The Bureau of Customs on Wednesday welcomed the Supreme Court’s issuance of a temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping the enforcement of a Davao City regional trial court’s ruling that restrained the BOC from seizing a rice shipment linked to controversial importer David Tan.
Customs Commissioner John Phillip Sevilla called the TRO “good news for the BOC and even better news for our rice farmers.”
Sevilla expressed hope that the Office of the Solicitor General could help the BOC challenge similar rulings in the Manila and Batangas regional trial courts, which have also issued injunctions against rice shipment seizures.
Lack of representation
The Supreme Court gave Davao City RTC Judge Emmanuel Carpio and the importer-petitioner, Joseph Ngo, 10 days to comment on the arguments of the government counsel, which cited “the lack of adequate representation of the BOC during the hearings before the Davao RTC and the lack of legal standing of the petitioner to sue.”
The TRO, however, came a bit late as Customs officials had already released 167 containers of the Vietnamese rice from the port of Davao in compliance with the order of the lower court, leaving only 87 containers of the seized shipment.
The BOC had seized the shipment, which Ngo bought from a firm linked to controversial trader Davidson Bangayan, because it did not have an import permit from the National Food Authority (NFA).
Ngo sued the BOC. The Davao court favored an injunction in support of Ngo’s argument that requiring an import permit on rice shipments may no longer be imposed because the Special Treatment for Rice Importation under the World Trade Organization (WTO) had expired in June 2012. The Philippines is still negotiating with the WTO to extend the import restrictions until 2017.
Rice policy needed
While supportive of the BOC’s mission to stop smuggling, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima earlier cited the need for a “Cabinet-crafted policy on rice importation.”
Meanwhile, the agriculture alliance Sinag (Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura) has denounced rice price spikes and the liberalization of the rice trade.
Sinag said there was no justification for any significant increases in rice prices since farmgate prices of palay (unmilled rice) have remained around P23 per kilo for the past three months.
“For the past weeks, they have been feeding misinformation and have used former government officials and pro-foreign interest academics to mouth the shameful rhetoric that it is better for us to simply import cheaper rice from Vietnam and Thailand than to support our local rice industry,” added the organization Sinag.—Jerry E. Esplanada and Christine Avendaño