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Monday, December 4, 2023

‘Chinese mafia involved in PH rice smuggling’

The Bureau of Customs (BOC) is looking into information that a “Chinese mafia” is supposedly involved in smuggling rice into the country.

During a Saturday news forum in Quezon City, BOC Director Vernie Enciso said they have received reports regarding the issue.

“Either they are on the side of financing, distribution, or other sides, they are present in many levels of agricultural smuggling. The Bureau of Customs is looking into all of these,” he added.

But lawyer Marlon Agaceta, BOC’s chief of staff, said it was hard to determine the source of the smuggled rice and who were behind this.

Meanwhile, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Saturday said the country does not have a problem with its rice supply, only with issues related to its distribution.

At an event in Camarines Sur, the President also said government’s price control on regular and well-milled rice might be reduced as palay harvests begin across the country.

Mr. Marcos, the concurrent Agriculture Secretary, noted that market forces would be at work due to the new rice harvests, pulling down the cost of the staple Filipino commodity.

“With the measures we have started, for example, the price cap, as well as the assistance to retailers, I think that when the harvest comes in and we start to reap it, we will see a decrease in prices,” he said.

“It is impossible for the price of any agricultural product to move without affecting other sectors. That’s fundamental. When agriculture moves… That’s why we prioritize it because we can’t do what we want to do if we don’t fix our agriculture,” the President added.

Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez also said the President is eyeing an estimated P10 billion expected excess collection from the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEP) this year to further support farmers and improve local food production.

At the same time, Romualdez said the House of Representatives would move to allocate an additional P40 billion funding for irrigation projects under the 2024 national budget to support the President’s mission to increase agricultural production.

He said Mr. Marcos’ gesture manifests the Chief Executives’ firm resolve to boost agricultural production, particularly of rice, to ensure a stable supply of food for every Filipino family at affordable prices, and at the same time help improve the lives of our farmers.

Part of this effort is the President’s dream to eventually bring down the price of rice to P20 per kilo, according to Romualdez.

BOC said their raids in dubious warehouses are continuing and that from August to the present, they have seized 236,571 sacks of smuggled rice from four warehouses in Bulacan, 36,000 sacks from Tondo, Manila, and 20,000 sacks from Las Piñas and Bacoor, Cavite.

Enciso said presented documents and actual imports in the warehouses did not match.

Proving the guilt of someone is also a tedious process, Agaceta admitted.

For 2023, BOC has filed 53 cases involving 416 importers and forfeited agricultural products worth more than P612 million.

Two things are done to seized smuggled rice—either auctioned off or donated to different government agencies such as the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

Social Welfare Spokesperson Romel Lopez said they are thankful for the donation and immediately distribute the rice to poor beneficiaries.

As for the P15,000 cash aid to rice retailers, Lopez said they have given this to more than 6,000 retailers. Their maximum target of beneficiaries is 30,000 by the end of the month.

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