Lawmakers on Wednesday urged the Bureau of Customs (BoC) to file charges against rice smugglers, including those behind the illegal entry of the staple through ports in Mindanao.
Speaker Martin Romualdez made the appeal as he supported the decision of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to distribute confiscated smuggled rice to thousands of residents of the Zamboanga peninsula. The President, accompanied by officials, distributed the rice on Tuesday.
“This significant gesture demonstrates more than just an act of generosity; it underscores the administration’s commitment to addressing the needs of our people, especially during challenging times,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez and Rep. Brian Raymund Yamsuan of the Bicol Saro party-list group, also commended the BOC for a series of warehouse inspections.
“I congratulate the Bureau of Customs and other concerned agencies for a job well done. But they should not stop at confiscating rice and other products smuggled into the country. These offices should file charges against the smugglers immediately,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez said unless the culprits are jailed or otherwise punished, they would continue doing their illegal activities, even if some of their smuggled products end up being seized.
“Furthermore, this initiative solidifies our collective stance against the activities of hoarders, smugglers, and those who unscrupulously manipulate the prices of rice and other essential commodities,” Romualdez said.
Yamsuan shared Romualdez’s views, saying the President has outsmarted smugglers and taught them an expensive lesson with his recent move to distribute smuggled rice stocks to poor families in Zamboanga.
Yamsuan commended the President for sending a strong message to smugglers and hoarders that they have nothing to gain from their unfair trade practices, while at the same time, extending assistance to poor households that have suffered the most from these illegal acts.
“The President has given smugglers and hoarders a bitter, expensive lesson where it would hurt them the most—their pockets. Their seized rice stocks mean their investments can never be recovered,” said
Yamsuan, whose partylist organization represents the people of Bicol, including the region’s more than 700,000 small farmers and fishers.
“By his single strong-minded act, the President has helped farmers and poor families and punished those that have made life difficult for them,” Yamsuan added.
Yamsuan was referring to President Marcos Jr.’s decision to distribute some 42,180 sacks of smuggled rice seized by BOC to beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) in Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Norte on Tuesday.
The stocks were forfeited in favor of the government after the warehouse operator was given ample time, but failed, to explain where the rice was imported from, and where he paid the tariffs and taxes for them.
President Marcos cited the BOC’s strong stand against smuggling during the turnover of P42 million worth of rice to selected government agencies and beneficiaries on Tuesday.
The President led the distribution of 42,180 sacks of rice to select beneficiaries in Zamboanga City and Tungawan, Zamboanga Sibugay.
The remaining stocks will be allocated to different regions across Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao once the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) has identified areas where rice supply is most needed.
In his speech, Marcos cited BOC for its consistent investigation and inspection of warehouses suspected of storing smuggled rice.
Customs Commissioner Bienvenido Rubio expressed full support to the President’s campaign against smuggling.
“The BOC treats this matter with the utmost urgency, as it is crucial not only for our farmers but also for all Filipinos who work diligently to put food on the table. That’s why the BOC will relentlessly curb these illegal activities,” Rubio said.
Earlier, the BOC seized the 42,180 sacks of rice at the Port of Zamboanga after the owner failed to submit the necessary documentation to prove the legality of its importation and payment of correct duties and taxes due thereon.
Also on Wednesday, the head of the Agriculture Department’s Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) said rice prices have finally started to stabilize.
Based on its monitoring, 90 percent of rice retailers in Metro Manila follow the mandated price ceiling of P41 per kilo for regular milled rice and P45 per kilo for well-milled rice, said BPI Director Glenn Panganiban.
A congressional leader, meanwhile, welcomed the National Bureau of Investigation’s (NBI) move to file criminal charges for profiteering against six persons in connection with the hoarding and price manipulation of onions.
Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. of Dasmariñas City in Cavite said such a move only proved President Marcos’s strong resolve in putting an end to agricultural cartels in the country.
The House of Representatives has been cooperating with the Department of Justice and the NBI in going after the onion cartel, which is behind the hoarding and price manipulation of onions.