BOC staff in recycled sugar import permits face axe

Sacks of rice seized in a Bulacan warehouse by the Bureau of Customs in a joint operation on August 18. Photo from BOC.
  • Palace vows heads will roll at BOC for those linked to the use of recycled sugar import permits to smuggle sugar into the Philippines
  • The warning came as 7,021 metric tons of Thai sugar unloaded in Subic Port, Zambales, on Thursday was found to have been imported using recycled import permits
  • The shipment was discovered on the day BOC reported raids on three warehouses in Bulacan and Pampanga that on suspicion of sugar hoarding for price speculation

Bureau of Customs (BOC) staff found to have connived with smugglers using recycled sugar import permits to bring the commodity into the country illegally will be axed, Malacañang said Friday (August 19).

The Office of the Press Secretary issued a press release about the warning after authorities reportedly averted the possible smuggling of 7,021 metric tons of sugar from Thailand into the Subic Port in Zambales on Thursday.

The questionable sugar shipment arrived as the government is cracking down on suspected hoarders of the commodity who are planning to cash in when scarce supply has driven up it price further.

On Wednesday and Thursday, BOC and Department of Agriculture officials also raided two warehouses in the cities of San Jose del Monte, Bulacan, and San Fernando, Pampanga on suspicion of hoarding thousands of tons of sugar for price speculation.

The OPS said the BOC officials learned that the import permit used for the cargo unloaded in Subic was “recycled,” or had been used for an earlier sugar shipment.

“Press Secretary Trixie Cruz-Angeles says that heads may roll at the BOC if evidence shows that any of the bureau’s port personnel are in connivance with smugglers using recycled sugar import permits,” said the OPS press release, which was sent to media and carried by the Philippine New Agency.

Acting Customs Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz said in a report to Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez that the 7,021 metric tons of Thai white sugar delivered by MV Bangpakaew was equivalent to 140,000 bags, with total tax payment valued at more than P45.6 million.

Initial BOC investigation showed the consignee of the smuggled sugar is Oro-Agritrade Inc. under the account of ARC Refreshments Corp. with Entry Nos. C-12513 and C-12521.

The Thai exporter is listed as Ruamkamlarp Export Co. Ltd. while the local customs broker was identified as Malou Leynes Buerano.

Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service officer-in-charge Joeffrey Tacio reported that the cargo was covered by a “Special Permit to Discharge (SPD) and verified Single Administrative Document (SAD)” from the BOC and with a verified clearance from the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA).

“Initially, the cargo vessel was allowed to discharge its load at 11 a.m. today (Thursday), cleared by SRA and BOC because it was not covered by the failed attempt to import 300,000 MT of sugar,” Tacio was quoted by the OPS as saying. “This means that the recycled permit was from an old allocation.”

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. earlier rejected Sugar Order No. 4, which would have authorized the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar into the country.

The OPS said reports have reached the Office of the Executive Secretary that indicated a similar modus involving “recycled import permits” supposedly resulted in the smuggling last week of a “shipload of imported sugar”.

The report from the office of Executive Secretary Victor Rodriguez identified several persons who allegedly control Subic Port, according to the OPS. “This is clearly economic sabotage and this crime is nonbailable,” the OES report said.

The OPS earlier reported that Marcos had ordered the BOC to use its visitorial power to inspect warehouses where stocks of sugar were believed to be being hoarded for profit.

On August 17 and 18 BOC agents conducted separate visits to two warehouses owned by a Chinese-Filipino sugar trader in San Jose del Monte City, Bulacan, as part of the government’s campaign against suspected sugar hoarders.

Acting on orders of Rodriguez, CIIS chief Tacio and the BOC’s Enforcement and Security Service (ESS) raided a warehouse along Kaypian Road in Barangay Kaypian on Wednesday.

Armed with a Letter of Authority (LOA) signed by Ruiz, the CIIS-ESS operatives found an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 sacks of various kinds of sugar neatly stacked in the warehouse owned by Victor Chua, who claimed his sugar stock was “locally purchased.”

Chua was handed a copy of the LOA that granted visitorial power to the BOC to inspect warehouses and facilities suspected of storing smuggled goods or of committing other violations of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA).

Tacio said the CIIS is making an inventory of the seized sugar and has given the warehouse owners 15 days to present documents and other evidence that would preclude their prosecution and save the seized sugar from forfeiture in favor of the government.

A Department of Agriculture and BOC team also visited on Thursday another warehouse owned by Chua also in San Jose del Monte. The warehouse, with 2,000-3,000 square meters floor area, was found 42,733 sacks of sugar or about 2,150 tons worth P215 million, a BOC lawyer said.

The team, led by DA Assistant Secretary Federico Laciste Jr., was assisted by the provincial Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the local PNP unit led by San Jose del Monte police chief, Lt. Col. Cris Cordero. The raid was prompted by information that the warehouse was being used to hoard sugar for price speculation.

Earlier on Thursday, BOC agents assisted by barangay officials and local police raided the Lison Building that houses the new public market of San Fernando City in Barangay Del Pilar.

The BOC investigation was based on reports that the warehouse had long been smuggling sugar from Thailand, repacking it and selling it as “local sugar.” Old and dusty sacks of Thai sugar were reportedly found by the BOC agents on the premises.