Customs probing men in ‘ukayukay’ smuggling

MANILA, Philippines– Several Bureau of Customs (BOC) personnel are under investigation by the agency for alleged involvement in a syndicate that diverts to the local market smuggled ukay-ukay (used clothes) worth millions of pesos seized by bureau opera­tives.

 

The erring customs em­ployees include members of the bureau’s police force and Anti-Organized Crime Group, as well as staffers at the Office of the Com­missioner and the customs collection district in San Fernando City, La Union.

 

A BOC official privy to the investigation identified the personnel under probe but asked the Inquirer not to reveal their names pend­ing the filing of administra­tive charges against them.

 

Customs ‘freezer’

 

The source, who sought anonymity for lack of au­thority to speak to media, said the investigation was stalled due to the sudden transfer of Leonardo Per­alta—who was leading the probe—to the Cus­toms Policy Research Of­fice (CPRO), the so-called “freezer” at the Department of Finance head office, on the signed order of Com­missioner Alberto Lina.

 

The BOC is a DOF-at­tached agency.

 

Customs Deputy Com­missioner for Intelligence Group Jessie Dellosa ques­tioned Peralta’s transfer, which he said “caught the IG by surprise as no prior 

consultation or comment was sought” from his office by Lina.

 

“As such, this office was not able to foresee the need for the proper transition of cases, especially (since) attor­ney Peralta is the chief of the Investigation Division which has direct involvement and supervision over several on­going cases of the Bureau of Customs,” he said.

 

Another customs official, who also sought anonymity, said Peralta had “turned down bribe offers from a Laguna-based trading firm” engaged in illegal ukay-ukay importa­tion.

 

‘Connect the dots’

 

“The company is believed to have friends in the right plac­es, allegedly including a DOF undersecretary… so just con­nect the dots and you will find out the truth,” said the source.

 

Lina had said that a DOF panel had recommended Per­alta’s transfer to the CPRO.

 

He said he did “not con­done corrupt practices” at the BOC, adding that he would “look into the low pay scale of customs personnel, which is probably one of the reasons some engage in corruption, and make the necessary rec­ommendations to the higher-ups.”

 

Nine other customs “play­ers” or traders are said to be involved in the illegal impor­tation of used clothing.

 

Ukay-ukay imports are usu­ally misdeclared as general merchandise and other items due to the ban on the importa­tion of used clothes under both Republic Act No. 4653 and the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines.

 

5-20 scheme

 

Early this year, the Inquirer reported that the government continued to lose millions of pesos in much-needed rev­enue to the “cinco huli, lusot veinte” or 5-20 ukay-ukay scheme at the bureau.

 

That is, for every 25 ship­ments of imported used cloth­ing, five are seized by the agency while 20 are released to the consignees upon pay­ment of “tara” (grease mon­ey).

 

Customs personnel inter­viewed for this story referred to the “continued proliferation of ukay-ukay stores not just in Baguio City but in other cities nationwide” as proof of the bureau’s failure to stop ukay-ukay smuggling.

 

Between 2002 and 2011, the government lost more than P1.33 trillion in revenue to smuggling through the ports, according to the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI).

 

In a study, the FPI said lost revenue from 2002 to 2008 to­taled nearly P890 billion, with further losses of P119.65 bil­lion in 2009 and P326.75 bil­lion in 2010 and 2011.

 

Losing P200B

 

President Aquino earlier said the government had been los­ing at least P200 billion in rev­enue each year due to smug­gling at the ports.

 

In another development, the BOC’s Intelligence and Inves­tigation Services (CIIS) has ordered an “in depth” inquiry into the anomalous release on May 7 of a shipment of alleg­edly fake food supplements and other health care products from a customs-bonded ware­house at the Ninoy Aquino In­ternational Airport.

 

Joel Pinawin, CIIS officer in charge at Naia, called for an “in depth investigation of the incident to determine the lia­bilities of all persons involved in the release of the shipment” which had airway bill No. 217-5288-6024.

 

An initial BOC inquiry showed that the imported items, con­signed to Jenelyn Higbok of BF Homes, Parañaque City, and composed of 12 packages of food supplements from Karachi, Pakistan, arrived at the Naia on May 1.

 

The shipment, the subject of an alert order issued by the bureau on suspicion that it contained fake products, was “transferred under guard from the Pair Cargo Warehouse to the nearby TMW Warehouse where it was even­tually released” to undisclosed persons, said the CIIS report. (Jerry E. Esplanada @inquir­erdotnet Philippine Daily In­quirer

 

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