Customs seized P9.75B worth of smuggled goods in 2020

Robie de Guzman   •   January 19, 2021   •   1058

MANILA, Philippines – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) has confiscated an estimated P9.746 billion-worth of smuggled goods in 2020, the Department of Finance (DOF) said on Tuesday.

Citing a report submitted by Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, the DOF said the Customs bureau seized smuggled cigarettes and other tobacco products in 150 out of 792 operations it conducted in the country’s ports last year.

“For the anti-smuggling effort of the BOC, the consolidated estimated value of seized shipments last year is P9.746 billion, of which P5.217 billion are from seizures of cigarettes and tobacco, P1.85 billion are from drugs seizure and P1.02 billion from counterfeit items,” Guerrero told Dominguez during a recent Executive Committee meeting.

The confiscated tobacco products made up 53.5 percent of the total amount of goods seized by the BOC during this period, Guerrero said.

Aside from tobacco products and illegal drugs, the BOC also seized P32.59 million-worth of various types of currencies from January to December 2020.

General merchandise worth P403.89 million, vehicles and automobile accessories valued at P354.53 million, and agricultural products amounting to about P207.7 million were also apprehended by the BOC, Guerrero said.

The BOC also seized personal protective equipment (PPEs), medical supplies and cosmetics worth P195.57 million; jewelry and other products, P69 million; foodstuff, P212 million; used clothing, P130.59 million; electronics goods, P31.07 million; steel products, P4.76 million; alcoholic beverages, P2.43 million; chemicals, P5 million; and firearms, P300,000.

From Jan. 1 to Dec. 28 last year, Guerrero said the BOC filed 74 criminal complaints before the Department of Justice (DOJ) against 268 respondents suspected of smuggling, and another 52 administrative cases before the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC).

As of Dec. 4, 2020, the BOC also ordered the closure of 20 customs-bonded warehouses (CBWs) and 40 members of customs common bonded warehouses (CCBWs) for various violations, Guerrero said.

“In 2020, the BOC already completed the inspection and investigation of a total of 150 Customs Bonded Warehouses and 247 Members of CCBWs,” Guerrero said.

Dominguez previously ordered the BOC and Bureau of Internal Revenue to intensify their respective operations against smugglers and tax evaders despite the mobility restrictions triggered by the coronavirus pandemic.

P7.3 million worth of smuggled cigarettes seized in waters off Zamboanga City

Robie de Guzman   •   April 30, 2021

State security forces have intercepted a watercraft carrying P7.3 million worth of smuggled cigarettes in waters off Barangay Recodo in Zamboanga City, the Philippine Naval Forces Western Mindanao (NFWM) said.

The NFWM said elements from its Seaborne Patrol Units, Navy SEALS, intelligence operatives, and members of the Philippine Coast Guard and Bureau of Customs seized the contraband that was loaded on MB Dream Boat on April 28.

The smuggled cigarettes were packed in 205 master cases and were loaded in a boat coming from Sulu.

The cigarettes bore brands like Cannon, Champion, New Far Gold, and New Far Green.

The boat had a crew of 10 who were escorted to Naval Station Romulo Espaldon.

“The crew underwent a medical check-up at Camp Navarro General Hospital and were all declared to be in good condition,” the NFWM said.

The apprehended individuals and the confiscated items were turned over to the custody of BOC Zamboanga District for proper disposition, it added.

DOF: Temporary reduction of pork import tariffs ‘immediate, practicable’ solution to check inflation

Robie de Guzman   •   April 28, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to allow more pork imports at lower tariffs for a temporary period is an “immediate and practicable” response to avoid price spikes, Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said Tuesday.

During the resumption of the Senate Committee of the Whole inquiry into the food crisis resulting from the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak, Dominguez said the measure was intended to protect Filipino consumers form price spirals that could further drive up inflation and undermine the country’s economic recovery from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.

The DOF chief noted that the spike in meat prices this year has unduly jacked up food inflation, thus “exacerbating the problems of unemployment, hunger and reduced or lost incomes for many Filipinos” that have led people to rely on community pantries for aid.

Dominguez, a former agriculture secretary, said that although the presidential directive appears to be a painful solution as it would lead to a revenue loss of P13.68 billion for the government, this would actually slash pork prices to a level estimated to save Filipino consumers a whopping P67.38 billion.

“The worse we could do in a situation like the one we are facing today is to let supply issues force food prices up even more. If food prices rise, the inflation rate also increases. If the inflation rate rises, interest rate increases will follow. This unhealthy chain of events will make economic recovery even more difficult for all,” the finance chief told senators.

“The short-term and only practicable strategy for the current problem is contained in Executive Order 128,” he added.

EO 128 temporarily cuts the tariff rate on pork imports within the minimum access volume (MAV) quota to 5 percent, from the current rate of 30 percent, for the first three months upon the effectivity of the presidential directive. The reduced rate will go up to 10 percent for the next nine months thereafter.

It also increases the MAV quota for pork from 54,210 metric tons (MT) to 404,210 MT.

“Again, more than the economics of it, EO 128 is a response to protect our people from shortages and price spikes during this difficult time. We need to do it now for the sake of our countrymen,” Dominguez said.

He also explained that the increase in the MAV quota for pork factors in the estimated supply deficit for 2021 at up to 477,000 MT based on estimates by the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).

“Thus, the temporary increase in pork imports will not ‘kill’ the local hog industry as feared by some quarters, given that imports would potentially account for only up to 22.8 percent of total consumption,” Dominguez said.

The Finance chief also emphasized that the decision to adjust pork import tariffs “was not done haphazardly, but underwent extensive deliberations and consultations among the public and concerned agencies, with all the tradeoffs considered in the cost-benefit analysis.”

“We are not giving up on the domestic pork industry. The interventions of the Department of Agriculture to help the industry are aggressive. They expect them to yield even greater benefits once a permanent solution to the ASF outbreak becomes available,” Dominguez said.

DOF urges Congress to support Duterte order to increase pork imports at lower tariff rates

Robie de Guzman   •   April 21, 2021

MANILA, Philippines – Department of Finance (DOF) Secretary Carlos Dominguez III has called on lawmakers to support President Rodrigo Duterte’s order to temporarily increase pork importations at lower tariff rates to address pork supply woes in the country amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Dominguez said the recommendation to the President to temporarily reduce pork import tariffs and increase the minimum access volume (MAV) on pork imports was made by him and the administration’s economic development cluster (EDC) “after extensive deliberations and consultations among concerned agencies and the public, with all the tradeoffs considered in the cost-benefit analysis done on this major consumer concern.”

In a letter addressed to Senate President Vicente Sotto III, Dominguez said that as Chairman of the Cabinet’s Economic Development Cluster (EDC), he was taking full responsibility for supporting and recommending to the President to sign Executive Order (EO) No. 128, which temporarily modified the rates of the import duties on fresh, chilled and frozen meat of swine and increased the MAV on such imports.

Dominguez pointed out in his letter that the period of the tariff adjustment under the EO emphasizes that “this is a short-term effort that does not aim to harm the domestic industry” and is actually “complementary to the programs of the Department of Agriculture (DA) in helping the domestic hog industry to recover.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to urge the Senate to support this measure so that some 100 million Filipinos who eat pork, especially the poor, will not be penalized by high food prices. If left unresolved, poverty and malnutrition will increase,” Dominguez said in his letter.

“Elevated pork prices will add another problem to households whose incomes have already been heavily strained by the COVID-19 pandemic. With African Swine Fever (ASF) raging through farms for almost two years, data show that domestic supply will remain inadequate for the needs of consumers,” he added.

Pork prices in the National Capital Region (NCR) have already reached as high as P327 per kilo in March 2021, which is 59 percent higher compared to last year.

In March 2021, meat inflation increased to 20.9 percent and was the top contributor to overall inflation of 1.4 percentage points, even higher than the 1 percent contribution to inflation of rice at the height of the 2018 rice crisis.

Dominguez said that to resolve the ASF crisis gripping the domestic hog industry, the DA has put in place several programs, among them, repopulating the swine population, compensating producers for losses in culled hogs, and investing in long-term solutions to the problems of the swine industry.

He pointed out though that these are medium-term and long-term solutions that will not immediately address the current price pressures affecting pork consumers.

Contrary to misperceptions, the DA does not intend to rely on importation alone to solve supply issues in the long haul, the DOF chief said.

“Even with increased imports, a large part of domestic demand is expected to be covered by domestic production, which the DA will aggressively support with improved implementation of its hog production assistance and repopulation program,” Dominguez said.

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