The Bureau of Customs, through its Bureau Action Team Against Smugglers (BATAS), filed four smuggling charges before the Department of Justice against the president of Sta. Rosa Farms Jomerito “Jojo” Soliman, Chief Financial Officer Dolores Opancia, Director Mary Grace Cayanan, and Director Marileen S. Avañez Thursday.
The 200,000 containers loaded with 100,000 sacks of rice were seized at the Manila International Container Port in June for lack of importation permit. This was tagged by the Customs bureau as the “largest haul of smuggled rice under the leadership of Customs Chief Isidro Lapena.”
Sta Rosa Farms was charged for violating Section 1401 of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) and Republic Act No. 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act.
Licensed Customs Broker Diosdado M. Santiago, who processed the importation, was also charged.
According to Customs Spokesman Erastus Sandino Austria, last July 13, 150 containers of the seized rice were ordered forfeited in favor of the government while the 50 containers were declared abandoned by MICP District Collector Vener Baquiran.
“To make sure that the rice shipments will be immediately released from our ports, Commissioner Lapeña has instructed the immediate conduct of public auction. This move will ensure sufficient supply of rice in the market, which would result in the stabilization of the price of rice,” Austria said.
On July 17 and 18, the bureau sold the rice in a public auction generating a total revenue of P177,990,888, the spokesman added.
“As instructed by the President, the government particularly the Bureau of Customs will not waiver in its drive against smuggling of rice in the country and the abuses being done by the rice cartels,” Lapena said in a statement.
“The filing of these criminal cases before the Department of Justice shows the commitment of the current administration to ensure that these smugglers are brought to justice. This time they will face serious jailtime under the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act as rice smuggling in now considered as a non-bailable offense. We will make sure that smugglers and hoarders of rice will bleed money and will not benefit from their illegal acts,” Lapeña added.