DOJ: BOC can't handle smuggling probe alone

Posted at 02/07/2014 12:47 AM | Updated as of 02/07/2014 12:47 AM

MANILA -- The Department of Justice (DOJ) chief said on Thursday that stopping rice smuggling in the country needs the coordination of multiple government agencies.

According to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, the Bureau of Customs alone cannot handle such a complex issue.

"I don't think kaya 'yan ng isang agency. This is a complex matter, there are so many players. The Bureau of Customs has in its possession all the needed documents and on the other hand, the National Food Agency and the Department of Agriculture will do the accreditation of the rice importers and traders," she said.

The investigation being done on rice smuggling, De Lima said, is not an official joint probe of three agencies, but "more of a parallel coordinated probe."

"Hindi pwedeng hindi kasama ang BOC, NFA and DA kasi ang data, documetns, galing sa kanila. We can do the legwork, the task of looking for witnesses and in accessing the witnesses. But the substantive data has to come from these agencies," she said.

Meanwhile, De Lima said the DOJ will come up with a legal opinion on the quantitative restriction on rice under the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreement, which is being asked by some senators for the next Senate hearing on rice smuggling set on Feb. 27.

"The senators are prodding the DOJ to come up with definitive opinion on the issue on whether the quantitative restriction on rice, which was granted to us under the WTO agreement, still subsists as it is supposed to have expired in June 2012," De Lima said.

According to her, the DA and NFA are taking the position that quantitative restrictions on rice have not been lifted, as there is still an ongoing negotiation to extend it for another five years.

"We have to be careful coming out with that opinion, in light of the ongoing negotiations, because it might jeopardize the negotiations," she said.

De Lima said there are also several injunction cases filed in various regional trial courts, and Regional Trial Court (RTC) judges have issued TROs and injunctions. The plaintiffs, she said, claim that there is no longer any restriction and therefore no need for importation permits.

"We do not agree with that, just because irrespective of the issue of whether or not there is a quantitative restriction on rice, what's wrong with DA, NFA still imposing the requirement of an import permit?," she asked.

De Lima, however, said it would also help the DOJ if they know the national policy on the issue.

"I take the position that this is not a mere DA and NFA matter, so there's got to be a conscious national policy on this. In achieving rice sufficiency, protecting the interest of domestic or local farmers, is QR [quantitative restriction] the best option?," she asked.