MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Agriculture (DA) has collaborated with the Bureau of Customs (BOC) in intensifying campaign against smuggling of agricultural products following the interception of imported onions in the Port of Manila last week.
On his Facebook account, Secretary Piñol said he asked Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapeña “to place under “Alert Status” all incoming shipments declared as agricultural products.”
Piñol said, this means, “all containers arriving at the Port of Manila and in other ports all over the country from foreign sources will now be subjected to mandatory inspection.”
Secretary Piñol and Commissioner Lapeña on Monday, April 23, inspected 17 container vans with contents declared as “apples” which later discovered as “apple-sized” onions. The shipment arrived at the port last week from China.
Piñol explained that imported onions are subject for 35% tariff duties while apples are exempted. This perhaps prompted the consignee to misdeclare the shipment in order to escape tariff obligations.
Foiled Bribery Revealed
In a press conference Tuesday, April 24, it was revealed that an anonymous caller attempted to bribe the intercepting team led by Customs Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan. The offer was initially P200,000 for each container van. When Cayanan refused and said their efforts were non-negotiable, the caller increased the offer to P2 million for each container van.
He said the caller initially refused to have the containers inspected.
“Sabi kasi huwag nang pabuksan. Sabi ko, ‘Hindi pwede, i-strip lahat iyan’,” Cayanan said.
(The caller said not to open it. I replied, “No, strip all of them.”)
He added that the caller later agreed to have the last container opened under the condition that neither Cayanan nor Piñol will be present.
Not Fit for Consumption
Secretary Piñol said the seized onions will be destroyed primarily because of sanitary issues.
He explained they are not sure of the quality of the onions which could pose health risks to consumers.
In a statement, Secretary Piñol said his decision to alert authorities against agricultural smuggling also aims to address illegal activities of bringing in agricultural products in the country “which not only defrauds government of revenues but also adversely affects our farmers and fishermen.”
Piñol added that “unchecked entry of these products also pose a serious risk on Philippine agriculture because pests and diseases could be brought in since these are not covered by Sanitary and Pytho-Sanitary (SPS) inspections.”
Meanwhile, BOC is preparing the appropriate charges to file against the consignee of the smuggled onions. —Rey Pelayo | UNTV News & Rescue