Gov’t agencies beef up campaign vs. smuggling in NorMin

Gov’t agencies beef up campaign vs. smuggling in NorMin

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – A joint team from the regional customs and agriculture offices has confiscated 18 40-foot container vans containing imported red onions, valued at PHP57 million, at the Mindanao Container Terminal (MCT) sub-port in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental, officials said Tuesday.

Acting on information from the Special Task Group on Economic Intelligence (STG-EI), personnel of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) 10 (Northern Mindanao) inspected the containers with cargoes declared to be cream, flavored nuts, and other food products but were instead found to contain onions.

Also part of the task force are the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency.

Department of Agriculture (DA) 10 Assistant Secretary Federico Laciste Jr. and BOC-10’s MCT sub-port Collector John Simon inspected the cargoes that were believed to be from China.

In a press conference, Laciste said their inspection showed that the goods were all red onions.

He said the STG-EI’s mandate is to address price manipulation, smuggling, hoarders, and profiteers during the pandemic.

Laciste, a retired police general, said based on the information, the consignee of the onions was R2H Trading, which has no existing accreditation with the BOC.

“It ha(d) other shipments before with ceramic tiles and steel as declared cargo,” he said.

Simon said R2H Trading’s last cargo was in November 2020.

A cursory search on the Internet showed that according to the Philippines Trade Data, R2H Trading is based in Cebu City and is an importer of unglazed ceramics.

“This is technical smuggling. The smugglers have not learned their lessons,” Simon said.

Oliver Valiente, chief of the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service in Northern Mindanao, said the consignee is no longer accredited by the BOC.

“It (R2H) no longer has accreditation and we will do further investigation, backtrack with the previous shipments of the said consignee,” Valiente said.

He added that once they go through the process, all the red onions would be destroyed.

DA-BOC partnership

The DA is interested in the smuggling of agricultural and food products as this poses threats not only to the consumers but also to the agriculture industry.

“We don’t know what the smuggled onions contain and it could (be) harmful to the country’s agriculture,” Laciste said.

It can be recalled that on November 4, the DA-10 – Bureau of Plant Industry – Plant Quarantine Services (DA-BPI-PQS) and the BOC conducted an inventory and inspection of smuggled red onions inside a warehouse.

The total amount of the seized produce was estimated at PHP5 million.

Lawyer Roswald Joseph Pague, BOC-Cagayan de Oro Deputy Collector for Administration said its disposal would be set after completing the inventory of the warehouse along Corrales Extension in this city.

The DA-10 has not issued a Sanitary Phytosanitary Import Clearance for the commodity, labeling them as smuggled.

DA-10 Executive Director Carlene Collado, who also chairs the DA Regional Management Committee, discussed with DA-BPI-PQS 10 Manager Manuel Barradas and Pague the plans and strategies for the onions’ proper disposal to ensure consumer safety.

Recurring trade

Meanwhile, Simon said this is not the first time that onions from China were intercepted at the MCT.

Fourteen 40-foot cargo containers were already intercepted this year alone.

The total estimated value of intercepted smuggled onions at the MCT is PHP90 million.

Collado said they support the implementation of the STG-EI, assuring that such interception would help local onion farmers sell their produce at a fair market price.

Ermedio Abang, DTI-10 officer-in-charge, said if the local market is flooded with smuggled onions, the farmers would be affected.

“If these go out into the market, it will affect the income of our farmers and may cause hazards to our local crops,” Abang said.

Simon said the smugglers’ modus operandi is to change their consignee’s name.

The BOC, he said, would not stop intercepting smuggled cargoes.

Charges vs. suspected smugglers

Pague said this year alone, they have filed 25 cases against suspected smugglers in the region.

“The cases are in court. Some are still awaiting arraignment,” he said.

Laciste said they are going to file cases against the consignee and would ask the BOC for the destruction of the smuggled onions.

He said the shipment did not have the required sanitary and phytosanitary inspection clearance, which is a requirement to ensure that the agricultural products are not a health hazard and are free from harmful pests. (PNA)

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