New Customs chief Ruiz tightens watch vs. agri smugglers

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Bureau of Customs (BOC) | FILE PHOTO

New Customs Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz on Wednesday committed to ramp-up operations against smuggled agricultural products, especially with President Marcos himself at the helm of the agriculture department.

Ruiz also told a press briefing that the Bureau of Customs (BOC) would await the details of the Senate’s report on agricultural smuggling so the country’s second-biggest tax-collecting agency could file charges against private firms as well as former government officials involved in such wrongdoing.

The guilty will be punished, he said when asked if he would also hale into court ex-Customs officials whose names might figure prominently in the damning Senate report. “We will not given them any peace of mind,” Ruiz warned.

Back in June, no less than former Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero, who turned over the reins at the BOC to Ruiz last month, plus 21 other BOC officials, agricultural officials, as well as private individuals were tagged as either the alleged smugglers or their protectors.

Guerrero and all other BOC officials denied the accusations against them, saying in a statement that the bureau was against the “fraudulent importation” of agricultural products and remains “committed to its mandate of securing the country’s borders against the entry of smuggled agricultural products and other illicit goods.”

For Ruiz, the BOC and the Department of Justice (DOJ) should prepare air-tight cases against smugglers, citing many cases dismissed by the courts due to mere technicalities, hence losing the chance to prosecute big smugglers.

Ruiz also claimed recent successes in combating smuggling, like the haul in Cagayan de Oro City, which involved a perennial alleged smuggler. He likewise claimed having “a 90-percent success rate” in their interjection operations.

But the BOC chief declined to provide specifics so as not to “telegraph” his and the agencies’ moves against smugglers of agricultural goods.

“The BOC recorded 66 cases of seizures of agricultural products with an estimated value of P701.82 million from January to Aug. 7. 2022. In addition, the BOC filed 25 criminal cases before the DOJ against 71 unscrupulous individuals composed of importers, exporters, and customs brokers for unlawful importation and exportation of agricultural products with a total dutiable value of P186.98 million and total duties and taxes amounting to P76 million,” the agency said.

Also, “the bureau was profiling suspected smugglers as a preventive measure to suppress their illegal activities, Ruiz said, adding that “intensified intelligence and enforcement operations and consistent examination and inspection of containers in various ports of entry nationwide had been put in place.”

“The BOC conducts ongoing administrative investigations against BOC officials and personnel allegedly involved in illegal and irregular activities. Recently, the BOC Commissioner met with the League of Associations of La Trinidad Vegetables to discuss measures to suppress agricultural smuggling that heavily affects the local farmers,” he said.

“The BOC also is closely coordinating with the Department of Agriculture (DA) on the enhanced inter-agency data exchange in validating shipments and strengthened derogatory and intelligence information coordination. Furthermore, the BOC also implements the mandatory inspection of all reefer containers before their transfer to the DA-accredited cold storage facility. The electronic tracking of containerized cargoes (ETRACC) system is also in effect to ensure the safe transit and transfer of agricultural goods,” he added.

With the anti-smuggling fight ramped up, Ruiz expressed confidence to hit this year’s “internal” collection target amounting to P740 billion, a higher goal than the P722 billion assigned by President Marcos’ economic team.

Ruiz said that as of Monday, the BOC’s collections of import duties and other taxes already reached P505.4 billion or almost a tenth higher than expectations.

The BOC’s chief said August’s actual monthly collection would likely surpass the P62-billion goal. Last July, its tax take hit a monthly record-high of P84 billion.

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