BY GERRY LEE GORIT
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – Red onions placed inside 18 container vans estimated to be worth P57 million from China were seized by the Bureau of Customs (BOC-) with the assistance of the Department of Agriculture (DA) at the Mindanao Container Terminal subport in Tagoloan, Misamis Oriental, officials said Tuesday.
According to BOC, the imported items were declared as cream, flavored nuts, and other food products.
When both agencies inspected the containers, they found out the cargo were of red onions, said Federico Laciste Jr., DA assistant secretary.
“As per our inspection, it is all red onions, the inspection initiated by in the intelligence information from subtask group Food Security,” Laciste said.
“This is technical smuggling. The smugglers have not learned their lessons,” said John Simon, MCT subport collector, during an interagency press conference held at the BOC office at MCT.
Laciste said that the Sub-Task Group Economic Intelligence’s (STG EI) mandate is to address price manipulation, smuggling, hoarders, and profiteers in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The DA has an interest in smuggled agricultural and food products as these pose threats not only to the consumers but also to the agriculture industry.
“We don’t know what the smuggled onions contain and it could harmful to the country’s agriculture,” Laciste said.
Simon said that this is not the first time that onions from China were intercepted in MCT.
Fourteen 40-foot cargo containers were already intercepted at the MCT this year.
The total estimated value of intercepted smuggled Onions at the MCT is around 90 million pesos.
For his part, DA-10 director Carlene Collado said that they support the implementation of the STG-EI saying that such interception will help local Onion farmers sell their produce as a fair market price.
DTI region 10 Officer-in-Charge Ermedio Abang said that if the local market is flooded with smuggled Onions, it is the farmers that will be affected.
“If these go out into the market, it will affect the income of our farmers and may cause hazards to our local crops,” Abang said.
According to Atty. Roswald Joseph Pague of BOC-10, this year alone, they have filed 25 cases against smugglers in the region.
“The cases are in court, some are still awaiting arraignment,” Pague said.
Laciste said that they are going to file cases against the consignee and will ask the BOC for the destruction of the smuggled onions.
Laciste said 18 containers were under consignee R2H Trading declared as various importable products such crustaceans, acidified cream, breaded shrimp, flavored nuts, curdled cream milk, smoked crawfish and bread improver but found out to be misdeclared red onions upon physical inspection by the STG EI composite team from DA, DTI, NICA, DA- BPI PQS10, BFAR R10 together with BOC Inspectorate team led by Pague, port of CDO deputy collector for admininistration.
Said shipment does not have the required SPSIC which is a mandatory requirement to ensure that the agri products are not health hazard and free from harmful pests.
STG EI Alternate Chair, DTI Undersecretary Ruth Castelo, made a letter request to BOC Comm. Rey Guerrero after receiving info that said shipment contained smuggled agri products which led to the immediate action of the STG EI Operation Team after the letter request was approved by Comm. Guerrero.
This STG EI initiated operation with the support of the BOC that led to successful seizure of this 18 Reefer Containers is part of the relentless effort of the taskforce to curb smuggling of agri products and secure the welfare of the farmers and fisherfolks and at the same time protection of consumers.
The inspection was witnessed by DA R10 Regional Exec. Dir Carlene Collado and Regl.Tech Dir. Carlota Madriaga, DTI OIC Dir R10 Ermedio Abang, PQS R10 Chief Manuel Barradas, FIQS R10 Miguelito Lim, representative from NICA R10 together with BOC Port of CDO led by Collector for Admin Atty Roswald Pague, Chief CIIS Oliver Valiente and other members of the inspectorate team.