Sugar planters want Lina out
The biggest group of sugar planters and millers nationwide has called for the resignation of Bureau of Customs (BOC) chief Alberto Lina for allegedly allowing sugar smuggling to flourish.
Lina is “no good for the industry and no good for the country,” the head of the Sugar Alliance of the Philippines (SAP), Manuel Lamata, said on Thursday.
Contacted by phone, Lina said: “That’s his right… but I serve at the pleasure of the President.”
In a letter to President Aquino, a copy of which was given to this paper, SAP condemned the “dramatic increase in sugar smuggling during the past four months.”
Smuggling on the rise
That “sadly coincides with the appointment of Commissioner Lina as head of the BOC,” SAP said.
SAP said that in its previous letter to the President on May 23, “we tried to warn your good office that Commissioner Lina’s soft stance on smuggling—as can be gleaned from his well-publicized statement [in Filipino] ‘No more arrests here or there… Be compassionate,’ will be perceived by criminal syndicates as a sign that the ports are now open for ‘business.’”
“We [cited] a concrete example of the resurgence of sugar smuggling with the seizure of 18 shipping containers] consigned to the firm Real Top Enterprises, allegedly owned by a ‘certain Joel Teves,’” it said.
According to SAP, “this Joel Teves was once named publicly by then BOC Commissioner John Sevilla as part of the so-called ‘Big 17,’ a list of suspected smugglers.”
“These were supposed to be indicators that sugar smuggling was on the rise. Unfortunately, it appears our fears are well-founded,” it said.
SAP claimed that sugar smuggling “has skyrocketed in the past four months as smuggling syndicates have become more confident in trying to bring in contraband even at the Manila International Container Port (MICP), supposed to be our premier port.”
“In fact, during the same period, the BOC’s Intelligence Group—supported by our Sugar Anti-Smuggling Organization—managed to apprehend 122 [shipping containers] filled with smuggled sugar at the MICP alone.
There were also sugar smuggling cases in the ports of Cebu and Cagayan de Oro, “where 67 (shipping containers) were apprehended, again during Commissioner Lina’s tenure,” SAP said.
SAP added: “We had hoped that since you are personally aware of the travails of the sugar industry, you would understand the sense of urgency our letter brings. Sugarcane planters and workers are among the most marginalized members in agriculture, receiving minimal government assistance and subsidies through all these years.
“Yet, we remained steadfast in our commitment to ensure the food security of our country amid serious challenges brought about by climate change.”
SAP said it was disheartening “that we have not received any indications that our concerns are being addressed.”
“This perceived inaction creates an unfavorable impression among our stakeholders that the government does not care about the sugar industry. Worse, it emboldens smuggling syndicates and their alleged cohorts at Customs to continue victimizing us,” it said. Jerry E. Esplanada
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