The Bureau of Customs seized smuggled rice worth P300 million in a raid Tuesday by customs and police officers in seven warehouses in Marilao, Bulacan, as the police nationwide were ordered to identify and arrest rice hoarders blamed for the shortage of government grains in public and private markets.
Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña said Wednesday at least 125,000 sacks of imported rice, reportedly imported from Thailand, China, and India, were discovered inside the warehouses located at the FedCor Compound at Barangay Ibayo, Marilao, Bulacan.
Representatives from the National Food Authority in Bulacan were present when the BoC and Philippine National Police raided the compound.
“Seven out of the total of 11 warehouses inside the compound were being used to store the thousands of sacks of rice,” the BoC chief said.
The customs chief said the warehouse owners, lessees or the owners of the imported goods failed to present proof that payment of duties and taxes had been made on the rice.
The bureau is stepping up its operations to thwart rice smuggling given the price hike in the country’s staple grain.
President Rodrigo Duterte earlier announced that the government will go after rice hoarders who contribute to the increasing cost of rice.
Lapeña instructed the bureau’s Intelligence and Enforcement Groups to go after suspected rice smugglers and hoarders of imported rice and other agricultural products.
PNP chief Oscar Albayalde on Wednesday ordered the mobilization intelligence units across the country to identify and arrest rice hoarders and manipulators.
Albayalde’s directive came after President Duterte ordered the police to go after traders who were keeping rice out of the market.
“We intensify our intelligence gathering to identify these warehouses that are hoarding rice blamed for the shortage of staple,” Albayalde said.
The PNP is closely coordinating with the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Agriculture and National Food Authority (DTI, DA, NFA) to discuss the anti-hoarding campaign.
Despite imports, NFA rice of different varieties, priced at P27 and P32 a kilo remained scarce, sparking public outrage.
Albayalde said the prevailing rice shortage could be attributed to illegal stockpiling in warehouses.
“If there’s a shortage, it could be because of hoarding. The rice could be sitting in warehouses and will be released only when the price goes up,” Albayalde said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“We have to figure out, that’s why we intensified our intelligence gathering through the different intelligence officers of different regions,” he said. “This is a matter of national interest.”
Meanwhile, quarantine officials on Wednesday cleared 132,400 bags of rice docked at the Subic Bay Freeport after they were fumigated for weevils.
Plant Quarantine Service Regional Manager Ronnie M. Manuel issued the certification that the rice shipment from Thailand is fit for human consumption after it was treated by SSI Chemical Applications, Inc., a Bureau of Plant Industry-accredited fumigator.Before the clearance was issued, rice samples were randomly taken from the cargo holds of m/v Gazi for inspection, examination and sensory evaluation. The samples passed the quality specifications and standards.
If the weather permits, unloading of the rice shipment is expected to resume on Sept. 13 for delivery to NFA warehouses.
The 132,400 bags rice shipment is part of the 160,000 bags allocated for distribution in Central Luzon to beef up the inventory of NFA rice in the agency’s warehouses in Nueva Ecija, Pampanga, Bulacan, Zambales, Tarlac, Bataan and Aurora.
Akbayan Senator Risa Hontiveros described the weevil infestation involving over 100,000 sacks of imported rice languishing at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone as the “single biggest hallmark of government incompetence.”
“No matter how many cups of weevil-infested rice our public officials eat, no matter how safe they all claim it to be, our people shouldn’t have to endure eating this kind of food if only our government had done its job in ensuring the country’s food security,” she said.
She said the government has thousands and thousands of sacks of rice and just let it get infested.
“If this is not gross incompetence, I don’t know what is,” she said.
The NFA on Wednesday assured the public that the delivery of its services will continue even as administrator Jason Aquino has requested to be relieved from his post.
In a statement, the NFA said Aquino, who is currently on leave, will remain head of the food agency until a replacement is appointed by Duterte.
During a meeting with NFA Regional Directors last Sept. 5, Aquino had instructed them to further intensify rice distribution activities, to reach 15 to 20 percent market participation, so that more consumers, especially those living in remote barangays, island-provinces, the poor and marginalized in highly populated urban areas, are able to benefit from the government’s low-priced good quality rice at P27 and P32 per kilogram. With Macon Ramos-Araneta and PNA
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