Corruption at the BOC
HIDDEN AGENDA - Mary Ann LL. Reyes (The Philippine Star) - September 21, 2019 - 12:00am

The Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) is going after officials of the Bureau of Customs who are allegedly collaborating with several big steel manufacturers for improper import declarations that may have deprived the government of billions of pesos in tax revenues.

These technical smuggling activities, according to the PACC, have been going on for over 10 years. It is claimed that BOC officials have been clearing importations of steel products at the customs point of entry, even though there are wholesale discrepancies in the documents submitted for such items.

According to PACC, total steel imports into the country reached 9.1 million tons last year, with over P2.3 trillion worth of the products brought into the country over the last decade.

One steelmaker alone imported two million tons of steel billets last year, and may be responsible for over half a trillion pesos worth of lost revenues for the government due to systematic misdeclaration of its importation figures.

PACC said big steel importers, in collusion with BOC officials, had been manipulating the HS codes (the universal code for export and import goods), describing the imports of cast  and prime steel billets used for steel manufacturing as Grade 60  when, in fact, the orders under the same code are a mix of Grade 40 (5sp) and Grade 33 (3sp) to benefit from a lower value.

According to Buhay Party Rep. Lito Atienza,  the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act  was passed in 2015, but the pre-inspection provision specified in Section 440, which requires that container vans be inspected at their ports of origin, is not implemented.

Atienza questioned the rejection by BOC of the pre-shipment inspection of all cargo vans coming into the country. Without this inspection, the BOC and the Department of Finance merely rely on what importers declare.

At least P200 billion is lost every year due to unabated smuggling, which includes technical smuggling.

Just last July, President Duterte relieved 64 BOC employees, saying he was already fed up with corruption in the agency. According to Malacañang, the President’s action underscores the administration’s zero tolerance on corruption.

PACC said it is ready to file tax evasion cases against the BOC by virtue of the huge numbers of lost revenues that should have gone to the government coffers.

Business at all cost?

An international non-governmental organization has accused two multinational agribusiness companies of tolerating violent attacks against indigenous people in the Philippines.

A recent report from Global Witness, an international pro-human rights organization, uncovers connections between Del Monte Philippines, one of the world’s biggest and best-known fruit producing brands and major exporter to the US, and a pineapple grower, local rancher and current mayor in Bukidnon who activists suspect of ordering attacks on them.

It said that Del Monte failed to identify historic land conflicts and maintained its agreement with the mayor despite violence against indigenous activists on his ranches.

The investigation follows recent revelations by Global Witness that Dole Philippines has been linked through its suppliers to allegations of fraud and coercion to remove indigenous people and make way for a banana plantation.

The report said Del Monte failed to do adequate due diligence before entering into and while having a contract with the mayor and his company. Del Monte Philippines is a major exporter of pineapples to Del Monte Foods in the US. The company said it had moved to end the growership agreement when it discovered their supplier was also a public official, but had never become aware of the community claims or violence, Global Witness said.

The report noted that the Del Monte and Dole stories show that international agribusiness companies are still not doing enough to avoid conflicts in their supply chains, particularly in countries like the Philippines where laws on land and indigenous rights are often not enforced.

Global Witness senior campaigner Ben Leather said that as demonstrated by the allegations of corruption and violence around a nearby plantation run by global food giant Dole, this story surrounding Del Monte shows that corporate greed is not being held to account in the Philippines, with those standing up and speaking out being silenced without consequence.

Leather pointed out that inspite of President Duterte’s promises to protect citizens from the abuses of vested interests, business at all costs continues as usual, while those standing up for land rights and the environment are threatened and even killed.

Better Manila

Barely a year after a massive clean-up project was launched, Manila Bay has gone a long way.

It will be recalled that following the launch of Save Manila Bay, tons of wastes were collected via a multi-sectoral effort led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in partnership with several non-government organizations, one of which is the Manila Yacht Club.

MYC Commodore Bobby Joseph revealed that at least 27,000 metric tons of waste has been collected from Manila Bay which filled around five to six huge trucks that were hauled all the way to Tarlac.

The massive clean-up drive has resulted in a dramatic decline in Manila Bay’s coliform level a decrease in the coliform level found in Manila Bay, which used to be as high as 1.33 billion most probable number.

Joseph, however, said that despite the decrease, there is a need to put up sewage treatment facilities to sustain the gains already achieved.

But more than cleaning Manila Bay, Joseph is also advocating for a greener Manila, with less pollution, less traffic, and more trees. 

He said the Rotary Club of Manila is starting to plant trees, especially in the open parks of Manila so  that one day, Manila will be green and beautiful again and will become a healthy place to live.

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