HomeCommentaryIf not videoed, ‘destroyed’ contraband can be recycled

If not videoed, ‘destroyed’ contraband can be recycled

Something’s missing in the picture. What happened to the onions?

Customs men always trumpet interdictions of smuggled goods. Press releases quote top officials for the feats.

Example: the seizures of contraband Chinese onion at Port of Cagayan de Oro last July 7, 19, 22 and 29. Twenty-two 40-foot cargo containers, each laden with 28,000 kilos of yellow onion were misdeclared as butter, lumpia patty, and siopao buns. Customs valued each container at PhP3 million, or PhP66 million for all 22.

“Elimination of agricultural smuggling, along with drugs and guns, is my priority,” publicized Customs Chief Yogi Ruiz, a transferee in 2017 from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. “We have a legacy to continue, one started by the previous admin.”

Something’s missing in the picture. What happened to the onions? In previous admins, smuggled sportscars or DVDs were steamrollered. Such contraband can be auctioned, but were instead destroyed because smugglers invariably won them back. How about fresh foods?

Smuggled agricultural produce must be “confiscated and destroyed, or returned to the country of origin, or shipped to a third country.” Department of Agriculture (DA) Order No. 9-2010 mandates: “In no case shall a confiscated consignment be auctioned, redeemed, donated or sold.”

Revisions came in 2016. The Customs Modernization and Tariff Act allowed for donation of smuggled fresh foods “if fit for human consumption.” But DA must first inspect and certify sanitation/phytosanitation.

When the 22 containers were sneaked into CdO, DA was under orders from President/Agriculture Secretary Ferdinand Marcos Jr.: Strictly no issuance of sanitary/phytosanitary inspection certificates for onion and garlic.

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CdO Port Collector Elvira Cruz on Aug. 20 directed confiscation and condemnation. An accredited “condemnator” was picked: Greenleaf 88. The onions were to be crushed and buried within 30 days.

Firm procedures govern condemnations. Then-Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero issued in July 2021 Rules and Regulations on Disposition of Forfeited and Abandoned Goods through Condemnation. Manner of destruction, deadlines, venues, witnesses were specified. Section 21, Completion Report, required “all pertinent documents including photographs and video clips relative to the process of disposal, duly certified by head of disposing office.”

A funny thing happened on the way to destruction. On Sept. 18, the contents of six cargo containers were transferred to open wing vans. Value: PhP18 million in onions. Alarmed, Customs sentries photographed the anomaly.

The trucks scooted off to Davao City where the contraband was retailed for PhP600 per kilo. Total take: 6 containers x 28,000 kilos x PhP600 = PhP100.8 million.

Thousands more kilos had earlier been sneaked out of Customs-CdO, transported to Surigao Port, and shipped to Tacloban. Alert Bureau of Plant Industry personnel in Tacloban sent the onions back to Surigao, where the BPI rep. memo-ed the Customs Port Collector about the irregularity.

The stink reached Customs-Manila HQ. Ruiz told Intelligence Group Dir. Jeoffrey Tacio to investigate “District Collector [Cruz] and all personnel that may be involved in the alleged onion smuggling.” Further, “determine within five working days if [their] temporary relief is warranted during investigation. For strict compliance.”

Weeks later, Ruiz told Gotcha, “I have removed Cruz.” But Malacañang insiders shared that Ruiz in truth had actually promoted Cruz to Port Collector of busier Cebu. Cruz had served before as Cebu Port Collector, until transferred to CdO by Ruiz’s predecessor Guererro.

Officials often invoke “presumption of regularity of action.” Ruiz is entitled to such. But he must produce the condemnation report, with geo/date/time-stamped photos and videos of how, when, where, and witnessed by whom.

Same with 100,000 kilos of onions seized at Port of Manila last Nov. 29, which DA spox Rex Estoperez said was partly rotting and contaminated with toxins and E. coli. Same with P20-million Chinese carrots, also spoiled. Where are the reports, photos, and videos?

Without such details contraband onion can be sneaked out and retailed at today’s P740 per kilo. Same way PDEA-South Metro Manila officers recycled confiscated shabu to the streets.

Jarius Bondoc is an award-winning Filipino journalist and author based in Manila. He writes opinion pieces for The Philippine Star and Pilipino Star Ngayon and hosts a radio program on DWIZ 882 every Saturday. Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8 to 10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

The views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of LiCAS.news.

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