EDITORIAL - Smuggling as economic sabotage

The Philippine Star

After the Sugar Regulatory Administration, the Bureau of Customs is next in the crosshairs of those who believe the sugar shortage is artificial, with smugglers, hoarders and unscrupulous SRA personnel profiting from the suffering of consumers. If the suspicions prove valid, it would not be the first time that the BOC would be implicated in the illegal activities that it is mandated to prevent.

A day after “visitations” were conducted on three warehouses in Bulacan and Pampanga last Thursday, Malacañang reported yesterday that authorities had stopped the possible smuggling of 7,021 metric tons of refined sugar from Thailand through the Port of Subic in Zambales.

The white sugar, equivalent to 140,000 bags with tax payment of P45.6 million, was cleared for unloading from the ship last Thursday morning with the submission of a verified clearance from the SRA and the required Customs permits. A Palace press statement, however, said the SRA and BOC import permits appeared to have been recycled after being used for a shipment covered by an old sugar import allocation.

Malacañang warned yesterday that heads may roll in the BOC if it is established that its personnel are in connivance with those recycling import permits. The offense constitutes economic sabotage, a non-bailable offense, Malacañang warned as it declared that several persons have been identified to be engaged in the illegal activity at the Subic port.

BOC personnel had conducted the “visitations” on the warehouses in Central Luzon last Thursday together with personnel of the SRA and Department of Trade and Industry. The owner of one of the warehouses denied hoarding or other illegal activities.

Consumers have been caught in the middle of debates on the state of the country’s sugar supply and prices. Critics of sugar importation have maintained that the shortage is artificial and the issuance of import permits by the SRA has become a racket that can constitute technical smuggling.

The Bureau of Customs is on the front line of this battle. And several presidents including the previous one, Rodrigo Duterte, have decried rampant corruption in the BOC. As in drug trafficking, the enormous profits to be made from coddling smugglers must be irresistible, and worth the risk for BOC crooks. Previous finance officials have lamented that unscrupulous BOC personnel found ways to sabotage even digitization programs implemented to foil corruption in the bureau.

The warning from Malacañang is just the latest directed at Customs. Beyond implementing yet another reorganization in the bureau, those engaged in illegal activities must face criminal prosecution and suffer the penalties. As Malacañang pointed out, certain offenses could constitute economic sabotage. The law must be applied, to its fullest extent. The best crime deterrent is the certainty of capture and punishment.


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