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The Bureau of Customs (BOC) welcomes a Lower House resolution seeking to investigate alleged smuggling and proliferation of substandard steel products in the Philippines.

Customs commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero, in a statement, assured BOC cooperation in the investigation of its personnel, in compliance with House Resolution (HR) No. 379 filed by Agusan Del Norte first district representative Lawrence Lemuel Fortun.

HR 379 directs the Lower House Committee on Trade and Industry to conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the alleged smuggling of substandard steel products and their proliferation in the local market due to the alleged collusion between large steelmakers and BOC and Department of Trade and Industry officials.

The probe comes as part of the investigation by the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission and the Lower House initiated by Fortun.

Guerrero enjoined the public to provide information regarding illegal and irregular activities allegedly committed by unscrupulous importers and customs brokers in connivance with some BOC employees.

Guerrero said BOC will also continue efforts to weed out misfits in the agency and has already filed cases against erring Customs employees with the Office of the Ombudsman. BOC has also issued show cause orders to personnel suspected of committing irregularities while performing their duties.

BOC also sought the assistance of industry experts to ascertain the auditing of industry imports coming into the country.

Further, BOC’s Post Clearance Audit Group (PCAG) has been actively conducting an audit of importers. PCAG head and assistant commissioner Atty. Vincent Philip Maronilla said four to five big steel companies are currently under post-clearance audit to ensure there were no irregularities with their past importations.

Maronilla added no effort would be wasted in making sure those responsible for the entry of substandard steel are held liable. He noted that errant importers may be meted penalties and charges ranging from 125% to 600% of the revenue loss arising from negligent or fraudulent declarations.

According to HR 379, a number of groups including Consumers Union of the Philippines, Alyansa ng mga Grupong Haligi ng Agham at Teknolohiya para sa Mamamayan Partylist, Philippine Iron and Steel Institute, and the Association of Structural Engineers of the Philippines have sounded the alarm on the alleged proliferation of substandard construction materials, particularly steel products, being sold in the Philippines. This, they said, poses a grave threat to lives and properties and muddles the integrity of the government’s infrastructure program.

The resolution noted that the situation is purportedly a result of the smuggling of steel products with misdeclared grades, lengths, sizes, and weights, as well as the replacing by local steel manufacturers of micro-alloyed (MA) steel bars with quenched-tempered (QT) steel bars without the full knowledge of the design engineering community as well as the end users.

It noted that QT steel bars are relatively thin and bitter, making them unfit for use in high-rise construction projects especially in seismic zone 4 countries like the Philippines. QT steel bars are also restricted in other earthquake-prone countries like Taiwan, Japan, New Zealand, China, Canada, and the United States.

HR 379 said reports have “intimated the collusion of local steel manufacturers with avaricious and unconscientious officials” of BOC and DTI to cover up rampant deceitful replacement of MA steel bars with QT steel bars and the large-scale smuggling of steel products.

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