It seems that anything and everything is being smuggled into the Philippines: rice, pork, vegetables, cars, fireworks, drugs, humans, etc. Very soon, it will be cigarettes, again, and alcoholic drinks because of the new, much higher sin taxes. What is surprising is that while the Philippines used to be one of the world’s biggest exporters of sugar—copra which used to be our biggest export product—sugar is now being smuggled into, not out of, the Philippines. And the Bureau of Customs (BoC) has its hands full trying to stop the smuggling into the Philippines not only of sugar but also of other products.
The latest case of sugar smuggling was in Mandaue City. Ironically, some customs personnel seem to have a hand in it—which is not unusual. An internal investigation is now being conducted by the BoC. Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon wants to get to the bottom of the controversy because he believes that several customs personnel, including Maj. Camilo Cascolan Jr., director of the Enforcement and Security Service (ESS) of the Cebu Customs District, are being unjustly accused of illegal activities in order to shield some people.
It was the diligence of ESS personnel that triggered the so-called “hot pursuit” that eventually led to the confiscation by government of the contraband sugar that has an estimated value of P7 million.
Cascolan confirmed that ESS personnel were “guarding” the warehouse where the bulk of the smuggled sugar was found. They had been there for one week—because it was the ESS that started the series of actions against the smuggled sugar—before Biazon’s Nov. 28 photo-op showing him “confiscating” the sugar shipment.
Cascolan said he did not want the smuggled sugar brought out of the Customs-bonded warehouse where his men discovered the rest of the smuggled sugar because he wanted the whole warehouse padlocked and taken over by the BoC as this may unearth the people behind the smuggling attempt.
The shipment of seven container vans were brought into the country by two companies registered with the Mactan Economic Processing Zone Authority (MEPZA). Four of the vans were consigned to Muramoto Audio Visuals (Philippines) Inc., and the other three to Mobilia Products Inc., reportedly a major exporter of high-quality furniture.
Cascolan noted that encouraged by the “tuwid na daan” campaign of President Aquino, his men resisted attempts by two personnel of the X-ray inspection facility in the Cebu Customs Zone to let the shipments go. The ESS team even requested that proper investigation be conducted after discovering that the release papers for four container vans that had exited the main gate of the Cebu port did not have the coupons proving they passed through X-ray inspection.
Cascolan said there is a strong lobby by other Customs officials for Commissioner Biazon to stop the investigation and to paint him and his men as the “bad boys” protecting the warehouse full of smuggled sugar.
Cascolan’s investigation showed that the smuggled sugar was part of a larger shipment that also included four container vans full of sugar that were “stopped” by ESS personnel James Aguilar and Danilo Dalucapas in front of the ESS building just outside the Cebu international port on the late evening of Nov. 22, seven days before Biazon led the “seizure” of the contraband from the Mandaue City warehouse.
Records indicate that the four container vans were just the second and last batch unloaded from M/V Titan on the evening of Nov. 22. Five other container vans brought in by Muramoto and Mobilia had earlier been allowed to leave the Customs zone unmolested by Customs personnel. An inspection of the papers of three of the five container vans showed they too did not have the coupons that would prove they underwent X-ray inspection.
The ESS team’s suspicion that the container vans contained contraband was aroused when they noticed sugar granules spilling out of the vans’ padlocked doors. The suspicion of the ESS team was reinforced when personnel of the Cebu Customs X-ray facility repeatedly urged it to release the shipment despite the absence of proof that the vans had been X-rayed. When the ESS team inspected the four container vans consigned to Muramoto, their suspicion was confirmed that the three vans and the five others contained contraband sugar.
This discovery led to a “hot pursuit” to track the contraband outside the Cebu customs zone. The ESS team found three of the five container vans consigned to Mobilia in the warehouse of Greenhills Products Inc. in Mandaue City. The three were already open, either totally emptied of their cargoes or still being unloaded of their contents—smuggled sugar.
ESS team members Aguilar and Dalucapas, who intercepted the contraband, recommended that a Warrant of Seizure and Detention (WSD) be issued against the Greenhills Products Inc. Warehouse Door 2 in Mandaue City, as well as on all 500 bags of sugar and two prime mover trailers loaded with two more container vans consigned to Mobilia Products, which were found inside.
They also recommended that an investigation by an independent body be conducted to identify the people involved, determine their culpabilities under the law and, if warranted, file the appropriate administrative and/or criminal cases against them.