Customs chief, DA officials, mayors highlight Senate report’s list
A Senate report released Monday has identified Customs Commissioner Rey Guerrero and 21 other personalities as alleged protectors and smugglers of agricultural products worth hundreds of millions of pesos.
According to the 63-page report of the Senate Committee of the Whole, the list includes officials of the Bureau of Customs, Department of Agriculture, and several mayors.
The report linked 22 persons to the alleged smuggling operations based on an intelligence report received by Senate President Vicente Sotto III on May 17, 2022, containing a “validated list” of persons supposedly involved in illegally importing agricultural products into the country.
The Committee of the Whole report was signed by Sotto and Senators Panfilo Lacson, Nancy Binay, Bong Go, Richard Gordon, Risa Hontiveros, Imee Marcos, Grace Poe, Manny Pacquiao, Bong Revilla Jr., Francis Pangilinan, Joel Villanueva, Aquilino Pimentel III, Cynthia Villar, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Ralph Recto, and Franklin Drilon.
Besides Guerrero, other BOC officials identified were Customs Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence Group Raniel Ramiro; Customs Deputy Commissioner Vener Baquiran of the Customs Revenue Collection Monitoring Group; Director Geofrey Tacio of the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service; and lawyer Yasser Abbas of Customs Import and Assessment.
Agriculture Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan was also identified along with Bureau of Plant and Industry (BPI) Director George Culaste; Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources Director Eduardo Gongona; and Laarni Roxas of BPI Plant Quarantine Services Division Region 3.
Navotas City Mayor Toby Tiangco was tagged as the “smuggling protector” of BFAR products, along with Tuburan, Cebu Mayor Jun Diamante, who was allegedly “playing” in the ports of Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, and Subic.
Others on the list included Gerry Teves, who was said to be the “number one smuggler” of meat products “playing in major ports” such as Subic, Manila International Container Port (MICP), Port of Manila, Batangas, and Cebu; Manuel Tan, who allegedly smuggles agri-fishery products and plays in Subic, and Batangas, among others; David Tan alias David Bangayan, who allegedly imports in Cebu, the MICP, Port of Manila, and Batangas; Jude Logarta in Cebu; and Leah Cruz alias Luz Cruz and Lilia Matabang Cruz, who was tagged as the “onion queen.”
Cruz was allegedly a “DA/Santary and Phytosanitary Import Clearance controller/manipulator” in Subic, MICP, and CDO.
Other names on the Senate list were Andy Chua, George Tan, Paul Teves, Tommy Go, and Wilson Chua.
According to the report, the amount of technically smuggled agri-fishery commodities from 2019 to 2022 was estimated at P667.5 million. Also, 31 smuggling cases remain pending since May 28, 2021, with an estimated amount of P848.327 million.
The Senate panel found that smuggling is “persistent due to the failure to fully digitalize the inspection processes” as well as the “lack of first border inspection.”
Among the recommendations of the panel are to strengthen and rationalize inter-agency coordination; allocate more resources to law enforcement agencies tasked to address smuggling; agencies mandated to enforce the law should be subject to a more stringent disciplinary measure; and remove human intervention that provides an avenue for negotiation by fully automating the trade transactions, among others.
Guerrero, a retired Army general whom President Rodrigo Duterte tapped to lead the Customs bureau in 2018, had yet to react to the report as of press time.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar said his subordinates named in the report “should be given a chance to face their accusers and defend themselves in the proper forum.”
Several officials linked to the smuggling issued denials in a GMA News report.
Tiangco said his detractors have involved him in the large-scale agricultural smuggling in the country to prevent him from apprehending the “true” smugglers.
“To those linking me to smuggling, including syndicates, if you think ruining my name will make me stop, it won’t. I will not stop chasing agricultural smugglers,” Tiangco said in a report on “24 Oras”.
Slamming those behind the allegations, Culaste it was impossible to ask for bribes since transactions are now made online.
“I don’t even see the importers, how can I ask for money from them? Why would they give me that if they apply for the SPIC online and I approve it online too? Ever since I was assigned to the BPI, I never asked anything from importers, not even a single centavo,” the Agriculture bureau chief said.
Senators had questioned Culaste in one of their hearings after it was found that he green-lighted the release of vegetable shipments of a cooperative despite failing the temperature requirement. Macon Ramos-Araneta
The Plant Industry bureau director, however, explained the cooperative submitted documents proving their shipments are in good condition.
Gongona, meanwhile, said there should be a deeper investigation on the issue.
Cayanan told GMA News through a phone call she was not worried about being named in the report because “she did not do anything wrong”.