First of many cases: Lacson hales Faeldon and company before Ombudsman over rice smuggling

Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson haled ex-Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon and several others before the Office of the Ombudsman Thursday for economic sabotage, in the wake of a rice smuggling case in Cagayan de Oro earlier this year.

Lacson said this is only the first of several complaints to be filed against Faeldon, adding he and his staff are working on similar cases based on documents they had obtained.

“We are compiling evidence to file more cases. We have painstakingly collected documents from the Bureau of Customs, along with sworn affidavits,” he said.

The complaint Lacson lodged before the Ombudsman Thursday stemmed from the entry of rice worth PHP34.043 million, without the required import permits, last March. Named in the complaint aside from Faeldon were:

– NFA Administrator Jason Aquino
– Tomas Alcid, former district collector at Cagayan de Oro port
– Atty. Geniefelle Lagmay, Customs liaison officer to NFA of the Office of the BOC Commissioner
– Directors/officers of Cebu Lite Trading Inc., including Filomena Lim, Lucio Roger Lim Jr., Rowena Lim, Joselito Lopez, Josephine Rizalde, and Ambrosio Ursal Jr.

Lacson said the respondents violated Republic Act 10845 (agricultural smuggling) and Republic Act 3019 (graft and corruption), and committed grave misconduct. He also sought the preventive suspension of Aquino, Alcid and Lagmay.

In his complaint, Lacson noted the respondents committed large-scale agricultural smuggling as economic sabotage, a non-bailable offense punishable by life imprisonment.

“Despite respondents’ knowledge of the lack of any import permit for the two subject rice shipments by CLTI, they nonetheless allowed their entry at the Port of Cagayan de Oro, and caused the unlawful release of these rice shipments from the BOC,” he said.

Lacson pointed out the National Food Authority’s Memorandum Circular AO 2016-09-005 decrees an import permit must have been issued by the NFA before rice shipments enter the 12-nautical-mile Philippine territory, “more so the port of entry.”

As such, CLTI should have paid the proper tariffs before the rice shipments arrived. But CLTI paid these only on June 23, more than three months after the shipments arrived. As such, “these shipments are deemed illegal importations, and the Vietnamese White Rice are considered smuggled commodities.”

He added NFA administrator Aquino’s belated issuance of the import permits in favor of CLTI is “fraudulent and invalid,” adding Aquino “gave undue favor to CLTI when he specifically stated in his Certification and Confirmation that the validity of the import entries will retroact from the time of the arrival of the shipment.”

On the other hand, he said Faeldon should have issued an outright objection to the release of the shipment, but did not. Also, Lacson said the respondents violated the anti-graft law when they conspired to facilitate the unlawful release of the said rice shipments.

“When several Customs personnel noticed the irregularities, desperate and highly irregular acts were committed by Administrator Aquino, Atty. Lagmay, Collector Alcid and Commissioner Faeldon to make it appear that the applicable rules and regulations were followed to justify and facilitate the unlawful release of CLTI’s rice shipments,” he said.

But Lacson noted Faeldon knowingly made the release of the shipments, as shown during his statements at a public hearing of the Senate committee on agriculture a day after communicating “No Objection” to the release of CLTI’s shipment last June.

During the hearing, Faeldon had said they would seize all rice that arrives in the country without permits. Faeldon also said traders should know they need an import permit.

Lacson said such statements made during the Senate hearing a day after Faeldon “maliciously and illegally” allowed the release of smuggled rice is “a clear testament of the vileness of character and hypocrisy of Commissioner Faeldon.”

Meanwhile, Lacson said more cases may be filed in the coming weeks, with some active BOC officials providing information and evidence. “We rely on the documents, we rely on the testimonies of the witnesses na galing sa BOC,” he said.

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