Government agents seized smuggled rice worth P505 million on Thursday in an operation joined by lawmakers led by House Speaker Martin Romualdez and Customs Commissioner Bienvenido Rubio at three warehouses in Bulacan.
The warehouses, owned and operated by Great Harvest Rice Mill Warehouse, San Pedro Warehouse, and FS Rice Mill Warehouse are located inside the Intercity Industrial Complex in San Juan, Balagtas in Bulacan, were found to contain about 202,000 sacks of imported rice from Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.
“I have ordered the owners of these warehouses to present the necessary documents that will support its rice importation, as well as the amount of rice they have been keeping in these warehouses,” Rubio said.
Rubio thanked Romualdez and Reps. Erwin Tulfo, Wilfrido Mark Enverga, and Ambrosion Cruz Jr. for joining the inspection at the establishments.
“The smuggling of agricultural products, in particular rice… poses a grave threat to our economy. It creates a ripple effect that impacts the core of our agricultural sector—our farmers,” he said.
Intelligence Group Deputy Commissioner Juvymax Uy underscored the role of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) in the administration’s thrust to get to the bottom of hoarding that drives up the cost of rice in the market.
“If proven true, hoarding such a huge amount of rice grain will have legal consequences,” he said.
Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) chief Verne Enciso said the agency coordinated with the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Balagtas and personnel from Brgy. San Juan.
After warehouse representatives acknowledged Rubio’s letter of authority, the Customs team inspected the warehouses and found hundreds of thousands of sacks of rice grain that the authorities suspect will lack import documentation.
“As with our protocol, the team padlocked and sealed the warehouse temporarily and proceeded with the inventory of the found goods,” he added.
If found without proper importation and proof of payment, seizure and forfeiture proceedings will be conducted on the shipments for violating the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act.
The fact-finding team from the House of Representatives joined the Customs inspectors at Rubio’s invitation.
“The amount of rice here is good for three months. Technically, that’shoarding,” Romualdez said.
“If you hoard it and the price goes up, that’s greed,” he added in Filipino.
He said they wanted to see if the proper duties had been paid for the imported rice.
“Our assessment is that the supply of rice is really enough, especially with the imports,” Romualdez said even as he lamented thatsome traders have been exploiting the international price to jack up local rice prices.
Some traders, he added, were even holding back locally produced rice and matching its price with international pricing.
He urged the traders to move their stock and support the state-owned Kadiwa stores to help the public cope with rising prices.
Enverga, who was part of the House team, added: “Rice hoarding is economic sabotage in its highest degree. It not only destabilizes prices in the market through arbitrary manipulation, but it also adversely affects the ability of Filipino families to cope with day-to-day living.”
For the past few weeks, the price of rice has been steadily rising with retailers selling at P50 to P62 per kilogram in Metro Manila.
“We need to know if there is truly some basis to accusations that hoarders are responsible for the spike of rice prices in the market.
Inspections such as these send a powerful signal to all the hoardersand manipulators out there to stop burdening the Filipino people for profit,” Romualdez said.
“Aside from our oversight functions under the law, we are also doing this in aid of legislation, as we have pending measures in the House of Representatives that seek to penalize the act of hoarding rice and other basic agricultural necessities,” Romualdez added.
Reps. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, Brian Yamsuan, and Wilbert Lee all filed bills seeking to strengthen anti-agricultural smuggling laws and stiffer penalties for hoarders, price manipulators, and even government officials involved in the crime.