The Bureau of Customs (BOC) is preparing charges against the alleged protectors and smugglers of agricultural products tagged in a previous Senate report, Acting Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz told senators on Tuesday.
Customs officials are “thoroughly gathering evidence” against the personalities identified in a Senate Committee of the Whole report regarding the investigation on the alleged proliferation of smuggled vegetables in the country.
In June, the Senate panel said a copy of the 63-page document, which included former Customs and Agriculture officials, was already submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman.
Several officials have since denied the allegations.
“I’ve already directed our Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service to review the investigations that we have against them. If there’s a need and the evidence is strong enough, we will file cases against them,” Ruiz told the Senate Blue Ribbon committee.
He explained the BOC was gathering evidence to avoid “wasting the time” of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and to ensure the “prosecution and conviction” of the involved personalities.
Apart from the suspected smugglers, the official also said Customs had stopped 125 cases of agricultural smuggling since 2018. Criminal charges have been filed against the erring individuals before the DOJ, he added.
Lawmakers are conducting a series of legislative inquiries into the alleged unauthorized issuance of Sugar Order No. 4, which would have allowed the importation of 300,000 metric tons of sugar into the country.
The Duterte administration urged the Senate to file charges against previous Customs Commissioner Rey Guerrero and 21 other personalities who were tagged as alleged protectors and smugglers of agricultural products worth hundreds of millions of pesos.
The Senate report said the amount of smuggled agri-fishery commodities from 2019 to 2022 was estimated at P667.5 million.
Filing charges before the Ombudsman would also allow those accused to defend themselves, the Palace said then.
On May 17, then-Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, chair of the Committee of the Whole, received a “validated” list that identified customs and agricultural officials allegedly protecting smugglers of agricultural products.
Sotto said he has given then-President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. a copy of the list, hoping that he would help eradicate corruption in the DA, which Mr. Marcos is temporarily leading.