Biazon orders release of ‘smuggled’ rice

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

THE Bureau of Customs (BOC) Port of Cebu released rice worth P23.9 million last Friday. It was one of the last acts of outgoing Commissioner Rozzano Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon, whose official functions ended that same day.

The Port of Cebu had held the 15,995 sacks of rice on board mv Queen of Joy, which is docked at Pier 2, Cebu City, on suspicion that these were smuggled through the Batangas port and were shipped to Cebu in the guise of relief goods.

The Customs Police Division of the Enforcement and Security Service under Major Camilo Cascolan Jr. recommended the issuance of a warrant of seizure and detention against the shipment for not having a shipping permit from the National Food Authority (NFA).


Out of their hands

Cascolan also suggested submitting samples of the rice to the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, Laguna to determine whether the rice was imported or produced locally.

Under the law, it is a violation to ship 3,000 sacks or rice or more without an NFA shipping permit. The same law provides that the NFA, together with the BOC, may initiate seizure and forfeiture proceedings if the rice is imported.

Although the transport documents identified Philippine Phosphate Corp. as the owner and consignee of the rice, other people, including PNP Maritime Command officers, reportedly lobbied for the release of the cargo.

In a press conference last Dec. 5, District Collector Roberto Almadin said the rice claimants only submitted the NFA shipping permit after the cargo reached Cebu.

He also said they’ve submitted rice samples to the IRRI, but the Port of Cebu referred the matter to the commissioner’s office to decide whether to release the cargo.

Chaos at the port

According to a source at BOC, Biazon should have refrained from ordering the release of the rice because there’s an ongoing investigation. He should have left the decision to incoming Commissioner John Sevilla.

According to Port of Cebu sources, chaos erupted at the Pier 2 when customs policemen guarding mv Queen of Joy noticed that it was about to set sail. One of them fired a warning shot and sought the assistance of the Philippine Coast Guard only to be told the rice had been released.

The sources said there was a lapse in protocol when the customs police were not informed about the release because the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines provides that they (customs police) are the custodians of shipments, which are still under BOC jurisdiction.

When sought for comment, Almadin said he was not informed about the chaos at the port. He also didn’t receive any report that the customs police were not told about the shipment.

“They (customs police) are supposed to be informed. If that really happened, an inquiry on the process of dissemination will be undertaken. All papers can be made available at our office. All task appertaining to customs has been undertaken,” Almadin said in his text message to Sun.Star Cebu.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 07, 2013.

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