The National Food Authority, whose administrator is a co-respondent in a complaint for agricultural smuggling, graft and corruption and grave misconduct filed by Senator Ping Lacson before the Office of the Ombudsman came to the rescue of Cebu Lite Trading Inc. (CLTI) clarifying that all rice importers were issued import permits (IP’s) and paid all their customs duties or tariffs in advance.
The clarification came on the heels of accusations hurled by Lacson against CLTI for the entry of 40,000 bags of Vietnamese Long Grain White Rice at the Cagayan de Oro (CDO) port on March 9, 2017, allegedly without an import permit.
Cebu-based Boholano businessman and civic leader Lucio Roger Lim, Jr. is listed together with her mother, sister, and niece as members of the board of CLTI.
The NFA issued the clarification thru a press release on October 2, 2017, after their administrator Jason Aquino was implicated by Lacson for the belated issuance of import permits in favor of CLTI to cover the entry of the 40,000 bags.
The Food Agency expressed surprise over Lacson’s allegations that rice shipments belonging to CLTI were “smuggled” for lack of import permit and its failure to pay customs taxes and duties.
But despite the advance payment of all customs duties and the issuance of import permits, as required by the Terms of Reference (TOR) for importation of rice, CLTI failed to lodge an import entry within the 15-day reglementary period as mandated by Republic Act No.10863 known as the “Customs Modernization and Tariff Act” (CMTA).
According to NFA Memorandum Circular Administrative Order 2016-09-005 signed by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio Evasco, a shipment shall be illegal in the event the shipment has no valid permit.
The rice shipment from Vietnam containing 40,000 bags valued at $680,000.00 arrived at the Cagayan de Oro port on March 9, 2017, was issued an order of abandonment on April 26, 2017 by Tomas Alcid, former District Collector of Cagayan de Oro port.
According to Lacson, based on the evidence on record, the rice shipments were intended to be smuggled by CLTI through its directors and/or officers.
However, 25 days after the issuance of the Order of Abandonment, NFA Administrator Aquino, “for unknown reasons”, according to Lacson, issued a certification and confirmation with an attached import permit in favor of CLTI the validity retroactive to cover the actual date of arrival of the rice shipments.
For the two shipments, CLTI paid the Bureau of Customs (BOC) PhP14,279,323.00 depriving the government of PhP19,764,197 against the value of the rice shipment of PhP34,043,520.00, according to Lacson’s complaint filed before the Ombudsman.
“CLTI was only one of so many rice importers which were issued import permits during the period, that paid their customs duties, thus it is puzzling why this company was singled out,” the NFA said. (Chito M. Visarra)