Ombudsman junks cases vs top Customs officials

By on December 17, 2014


Office of the Ombudsman in Quezon City. Photo courtesy of DGR Law Offices.
Office of the Ombudsman in Quezon City. Photo courtesy of DGR Law Offices.

MANILA — The Office of the Ombudsman dismissed the cases filed by suspected illegal rice importer Bold Bidder Marketing and General Merchandise against top officials of the Bureau of Customs, led by Commissioner John P. Sevilla, which stem for the Bureau’s refusal to release the firm’s rice shipments.

In a joint resolution, the Ombudsman dismissed Bold Bidder’s complaint against Sevilla; Deputy Commissioners Maria Edita Tan, Agaton Uvero, Ariel Nepumoceno and Jessie Dellosa, as well as Ernesto Benitez, Jr, Acting District Collector, BOC-Port of Batangas, because the ‘refusal to heed a court order must be addressed by the Court, not by [the Office of the Ombudsman].’

Last February, Bold Bidder, represented by Ivy Souza, filed cases against Customs officials for violation of Republic Act (RA) 3019, or The Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, for their refusal to release complainant’s rice importation despite the issuance of the December 10, 2013 Writ of Preliminary Injunction by the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Lemery, Batangas. Souza also filed administrative cases for violating RA 6713, or The Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees for the officials’ refusal to clear Bold Bidder’s rice shipments.

Bold Bidder is one of the five biggest rice companies that imported rice without the required NFA permits. Bold Bidder imported a total of 12.8 million kilograms (or over 12,800 metric tons) of rice without NFA permits with total dutiable value of P186.5 million and with market value estimated at about P512 million.These shipments were seized by the BOC and placed under Alert Orders because the firm failed to secure import permits, a violation of NFA Memorandum Circular No. AO-2K13-03-003.

Sevilla welcomed the development as it affirms the stand of the BOC that it is simply performing its functions. “Our laws are very clear: the importation of rice must be supported by the required NFA permits and we have strictly and consistently upheld this policy. Bold Bidder and other rice traders who imported rice without the required NFA permits have danced around our legal system to try to get their smuggled rice out of the ports. Filing cases against us cannot and will not stop us from doing our job,” he said.

The Bureau has already filed smuggling-related cases against Bold Bidder representative Ivy Souza and the firm’s customs brokers Denise Kathryn Rosaroso, John Kevin Cisneros, Francis Rudolph Forneste and Elbert Lusterio for the illegal entry of over 12.8-Million kilograms (over 12,800 Metric Tons) of rice through Manila and Cebu.

Last September, the Batangas Regional Trial Court dismissed Bold Bidder’s petition for declaratory relief against the NFA and BOC, for lack of jurisdiction. In a 20-page Resolution, Batangas RTC Branch 5 Judge Eleuterio Larisma Bathan held that the trial court cannot assume jurisdiction over Souza’s petition because she had already violated NFA Memorandum Circular No. AO-2K13-03-003, which requires an importer to have an NFA import permit prior to the importation of rice.

Presidential Decree Number 4 mandates that only the NFA can import rice and private entities who wish to do the same must secure a permit from the agency. NFA Memorandum Circular Number AO-2K13-03-003 furthers that duly-licensed importers must apply to import rice to the NFA, which in turn would determine eligibility and set the allowed volume.