Senate panel flags 31 ‘pending’ smuggling cases

Facade of the Senate building in Pasay City. (Philippine Daily Inquirer file photo)

MANILA, Philippines — A Senate panel has flagged 31 “pending” smuggling cases involving nearly P848 million worth of smuggled goods.

“Thirty-one smuggling cases are pending from May 28, 2021, with the total amount of smuggled goods estimated at P848,327,873.83,” the Senate Committee of the Whole said in its findings contained under Committee Report No. 649.

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This came after the Senate panel, led by Senate President Vicente Sotto III, investigated the smuggling of agricultural products into the country. Aside from Sotto, the report was backed by 16 other senators.

The report cited updates from the Department of Justice regarding the government’s operations on smuggled agricultural products.

“Out of the thirty-one (31) smuggling cases since May 28, 2021, twenty-three (23) are still pending action, three (3) are resolved and endorsed for automatic review, two (2) are resolved and are ready for filing with courts, two (2) are for approval of resolution, and one (1) case is submitted for resolution,” the report states.

READ: Sotto, Villar question ‘zero conviction’ of suspected smugglers

The panel said that it was “undeniable that smuggling persists up to this day despite border protection and anti-smuggling efforts of the BOC (Bureau of Customs) are being implemented through the conduct of intelligence and enforcement operations by its risk management system, which involves the examination and inspection of shipments at the ports, and raids on warehouses and storage facilities containing smuggled goods.”

“Apart from the performance of the BOC under the law, other issues should be accounted for, such as, the control over the movement of cargoes and vehicles within the Ports, the issuance of licenses and permits, discharge of the containers from the vessels, scheduling of trucks, manpower, and equipment to move cargoes, and the areas of inspection,” the panel also says in the report.

Further, it said that space in ports that would have enabled for a “full stripping of containers for both dry and refrigerated containers” is “inadequate.”

“Also, due to the pandemic, the inadequacy in the manpower of the port operators, shipping lines, and even consignees themselves, poses a problem,” the panel notes Committee Report No. 649.

The BOC, the Senate panel also pointed out, “lacks the capability and resources to conduct enforcement.”

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READ: P667.5M worth of agri-fishery products smuggled from 2019 to 2022 — Senate report

It stressed the BOC currently has 523 personnel in the customs police force, “with an augmentation of 100 personnel from the PCG (Philippine Coast Guard), spread throughout 17 major ports and 39 subports.”

The Senate committee recommended that more resources be allocated to law enforcement agencies tasked with addressing smuggling. The BOC had requested recruiting or hiring 1,500 enforcement personnel with a proposed budget of P1.8 billion in 2019.