As sugar prices have remained high and although there is a permanent inventory of stocks, the government has started to raid bonded warehouses (CBWs) which the Bureau of Customs (BOC) suspects are stockpiling the commodity. .

Last Thursday, the BOC announced that its agents raided separate warehouses in Pampanga and Bulacan, where they seized a combined total of 44,000 bags of imported sugar worth an estimated 220 million pesos.

Executive Secretary Victor D. Rodriguez said they began raiding those warehouses on the orders of President and Secretary of Agriculture Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. Rodriguez said BOC personnel would also visit other CBW to check the inventory of imported agricultural products with the aim of finding out if there is hoarding of sugar.

A CBW, to note, “is a warehouse duly authorized to receive and store general cargoes for export, transfer to another CBW, free zones or for local consumption, in the same condition as when the cargoes were imported”.

The BOC said personnel from its Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) and Enforcement and Security Department at Port of Clark (Customs District XIV) and Port of Manila (Customs District II-A ), together with the army, rushed to the New San Fernando Public Market in San Fernando, Pampanga and next to Lugawan de Taruwe, Tapsihan Atbp., Along Kaypian Road, in Jose del Monte, Bulacan.

According to a statement released by Malacañang, allegedly hoarded bags of imported sugar from Thailand were found neatly stored in the Pampanga warehouse while hundreds of bags of sugar were found loaded inside delivery vans.

“The BoC raid on the Pampanga sugar warehouse could very well serve as a warning to unscrupulous traders who are currently hoarding their sugar stocks in order to take advantage of the current situation of artificial sugar shortage,” Rodriguez said in a statement.

Cornstarch

Besides sugar imported from Thailand, customs officers also found several imported items in the said warehouse, such as bags of corn starch from China, bags of imported flour, plastic products, oil in plastic drums, parts and wheels of motorcycles of various brands, helmets, LED TVs and paints.

A Chinese-Filipino warehouse worker identified as Jimmy Ng received a copy of the clearance letter and mission order from customs officials, read a statement the press secretary’s office released Aug. 18.

Currently, the CIIS is undertaking an inventory of said products and has given warehouse owners 15 days to present the necessary documents to prove that the items have been legally imported into the country.

If the bags of sugar from Thailand are proven to have been smuggled, warehouse owners may face smuggling charges in relation to the provisions of the Customs Modernization Act (CMTA).

Meanwhile, a certain Victor Teng Chua, the alleged owner of the Bulacan warehouse, was brought to the San Jose del Monte police station for questioning due to a lack of permits from the Sugar Regulatory Administration. Authorities are also checking for the possibility of large-scale sugar hoarding by the warehouse owner.

SRA inventory

The raid comes within the period allotted for an inventory by the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA), based on Circular Letter (CL) 32 issued by the SRA’s Responsible Officer, Hermenegildo R. Serafica. (See https://businessmirror.com.ph/2022/08/01/sra-to-conduct-inventory-of-local-sugar-stocks/)

SRA CL 32 outlined guidelines for physical inventory of sugar, molasses and quedan permits. The inventory would be carried out at all operating sugar mills and refineries nationwide as part of the SRA’s efforts to assess the country’s sugar production in the 2021-2022 crop year (CY).

The physical inventory inspection will take place from August 15 to 20, a few weeks before the start of CA 2022-2023 on September 1.

According to the guidelines, the SRA will engage a private expert who will carry out the physical inventory of sugar and molasses in the presence of an inventory team (IT).

“For sugar mills, each IT should consist of the authorized company representative of the mill, growers associations/cooperatives/federations and the authorized representative of the SRA as team leader,” reads CL 32.

“With regard to sugar refineries, each IT will consist of the authorized representative of the sugar refinery and the authorized representative of the SRA as team leader,” he added.

According to the guidelines, the SRA will engage a private expert who will carry out the physical inventory of sugar and molasses in the presence of an inventory team.

No more “controls”

In a separate briefing on Thursday, publicist Trixie Cruz-Angeles said it was also possible that more warehouse “inspections” could be carried out in the coming days.

Last week, Customs Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz said the office had so far seized 701.82 million pesos worth of agricultural products from January to August 7 this year.

The bureau also filed 25 criminal cases with the Department of Justice (DOJ) against 71 importers, exporters and customs brokers for the illegal import and export of agricultural products with a total assessed value of $186.98 million. pesos and total duties and taxes amounting to 76 pesos. million.

Ruiz also said last week that the BOC would conduct a formal investigation once the agency obtains a copy of the Senate Committee of the Whole report that identified Ruiz’s predecessor, former Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo B. Guerrero and 21 other government officials as alleged protectors and smugglers of agricultural production. (See https://businessmirror.com.ph/2022/08/10/boc-vows-to-probe-officials-linked-to-agri-smuggling/)

Guerrero has strongly denied the charges.

Officials from the BOC, the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Plants and Industry were among those included in the list.

“Once I receive a copy of the official report, yes, we will investigate,” Ruiz told reporters at a news conference.

Di namin in pinapabayaan,” he added. [We’re not neglecting this.] “I promised the president that we will fight against agricultural smuggling.”

If anyone is found guilty of agricultural smuggling, the Customs chief said he can only recommend that the DOJ press charges against those officials.

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