THE Bureau of Customs (BOC) decried a Senate report naming five of its top officials headed by Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero as allegedly involved in the smuggling of agricultural products as he also called on their unnamed accusers to file cases against them before the court instead of smearing them before the public without providing any evidence.
In a statement on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, Guerrero “vehemently denied” his involvement in smuggling as he also expressed doubt on the validity of the list of 22 purported vegetable smugglers and their protectors at the BOC and the Department of Agriculture (DA) contained in Senate Committee Report 649.
The report is a product of nearly 6-months probe of the Senate, seating as a ‘Committee of the Whole,’ on agricultural smuggling that started in December 2021 and concluded early this month.
Senate President Vicente Sotto allowed the release of the report to the public last June 22, 2022, and has since talked about it repeatedly more than a week after a well-orchestrated and well-funded media campaign against the BOC failed to generate public interest.
Significant in the 63-page report is a list of 22 alleged smugglers and their alleged protectors at the BOC and the Department of Agriculture (DA). The list, according to the report, has been ‘validated’ and received by the chamber on May 17, 2022 but did not disclose as to who was the sender and who made the validation,
Aside from Guerrero, also named in the Senate report on the BOC side were: Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence (IG) Raniel Ramiro; Atty. Vener Baquiran, Deputy Commissioner for Revenue Collection and Monitoring (RCMG); Atty Yasser Abbas, Director, Import Assessment Service (IAS); and, Jeoffrey Tacio, Director, Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS), the operational arm of the IG.
In a media briefing also on Tuesday, Guerrero dared the Senate and those who provided it with the list to sue them in court where they can have the opportunity to clear their names and prove wrong the accusations against them.
“Alam natin kung ano and due process, ‘di ba? Kung talagang may involvement kami, kasuhan kami para maipagtanggol namin sarili namin,” Guerrero said.
Guerrero had also questioned the accuracy of the list released by the Senate considering that relevant law enforcement agencies denied providing and validating the list.
“Law enforcement agencies such as the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Philippine National Police denied the release or submission of any ‘Intelligence Report’ from their respective agencies allegedly implicating any BOC official in any smuggling activity,” Guerrero pointed out.
NICA director Edsel Batalla, in a separate media interview, denied their agency was the source of the list as claimed by Sotto.
“The list did not come from NICA… we (NICA) do have our own list, but it is different from the one that was published (by) the committee,” said Batalla, who represented the agency at the Senate hearings.
‘It came as a surprise’
A source close to Guerrero said their inclusion in the Senate list came “as a surprise” to them.
He recalled that during the Senate’s first hearing held last December 14, 2021, Guerrero already dared the Senate and the other resource persons invited to give the names of those they accused of corruption so he can have them investigated and removed from their posts instead of just smearing the agency.
“Kung meron kayong sinasabing corrupt na ano, ibigay niyo ang pangalan para makasuhan kaagad…. Eh ang dami niyong pahiwatig, wala naman kayong binibigay na pangalan.
“Huwag ninyong sirain yung buong pangalan ng ahensya ko,” he said at the time.
The source lamented that up to the time the Senate concluded the hearings and released its report, not a single name was provided to the BOC by Sotto.
In separate statements, Baquiran, Ramiro and Tacio also expressed their indignation over their inclusion in the Senate report and cited the accomplishments of their respective offices in the fight against smuggling to prove wrong the accusation against them.
“I categorically deny the allegations against me that I am involved in agricultural smuggling. These imputations are malicious and false,” said Baquiran who had dutifully attended all the hearings.
“In all these hearings, no wrong was ever imputed against me,” Baquiran pointed out, while also noting that of the 111 criminal cases of agricultural smuggling the BOC filed, some 66 percent or 73 cases, were filed by the RCMG under his watch.
Ramiro, for his part, pointed out that in 2019, one year after heading the IG, the BOC confiscated over P419 million worth of smuggled agricultural goods involving 93 incidents; P284.62 million in 2020 involving 252 incidents; and, P1.227 billion involving 189 cases in 2021, when the Senate started its probe.
As of June 2022, Ramiro also noted that the IG had already confiscated agricultural products worth over P286 million from at least 16 incidents, of which last week alone, they confiscated over P124 million worth of agri products.
“In the conduct of my duty in the BOC, multiple attempts have been made to tarnish my name and honor and vilify our gains in the agency. However, I rest in the knowledge that the truth will never cease to exist,” Ramiro said.
“I vehemently deny that I am a smuggler,” Tacio said for his part.
“In fact, the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service under my command, has been at the forefront in the drive against agricultural smuggling and continues to be relentless in conducting enforcement operations at the ports, warehouses outside ports, and public markets against smuggled agricultural products,” he added.