By Betheena Kae Unite
A new large-scale smuggling scheme responsible for the disappearance of more than 600 containers has been discovered in the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
This was uncovered after officials found out that 641 containers – which might contained high-value goods like sugar, rice, or cigarettes allegedly shipped from China – vanished from the Port of Manila last year without paying taxes.
The BOC said that in just a matter of 24 hours sometime between April and August, 2018, the 641 containers, declared as ships’ spare parts, vanished through the bureau’s Informal Entry Division (IED) after one of its examiners allegedly authorized the shipments’ manual release.
Assistant Commissioner Vincent Maronilla said a logistics company named MMD Logistics, Inc., was allegedly behind the disappearance.
They made it appeared that the ships’ spare parts will be used on vessels docked in the country but the real deal is: The shipments will be moved to a logistics company, which will later take all the shipments to a warehouse before it will be divided for distribution.
“They make it appear on the documents that the spare parts will be taken to the vessels but that’s not true,” Maronilla said in Filipino.
“The logistics company will take the shipments to a warehouse where it is subdivided and then delivered to various clients and importers,” Maronilla explained.
This scheme also bolstered the bureau’s suspicion that the shipments did not contain ships’ spare parts but high-value goods.
Although it was done smoothly, Maronilla said it was the first time that this kind of scheme happened, where the importer used the IED to evade duties and taxes.
The disappearance of the 641 containers was blamed on Customs Appraiser Mimosa Maghanoy, who allegedly allowed the release of the shipments.
“The examiner is then only authorized official to release the shipment. He can do it manually and he should be able to determine if the shipments are already cleared for duties and taxes. In case of non-payment, he can also tag it for release,” Maronilla said.
All containers were released the same day they were lodged due to the alleged collusion, Maronilla added.
“The process was fast. It was released within the day after lodging because our examiner’s alleged involvement,” Maronilla said.
“So if one of our people is in connivance with them, why do the release take any longer,” he added.
Maghanoy, however, denied his involvement. He denied receiving anything in exchange and blamed it on the bureau’s Information Technology Group.
Due to the massive disappearance of containers, the bureau has seen the loophole of the IED, where processes are not automated and shipments are released manually.
Shipments worth below P50,000 pass through the IED, where balikbayan boxes also go through.
Maronilla said it is very unusual for a container, unless it is a consolidated container, to pass through there.
During the time it happened, under the watch of former Customs Chief Isidro Lapeña, the IED was not automated.
It was also the time when gatekeepers were no longer manning the terminal gates.
Gatekeepers, according to Maronilla, could have prevented the massive release of shipments if they were still there. They have the authority to counter-check whether the containers going out the yard have been cleared of taxes and duties.
“Supposedly, the gatekeepers could have asked for the receipt or interrogate them on the frequent release but there were no gatekeepers at that time,” Maronilla said.
It can be recalled that Lapeña removed gatekeepers from the Pier and Inspection Division from the terminal gates due to redundancy of workload among Customs employees and that checking conducted by the gatekeepers was no longer necessary.
The containers vanished between April to August last year but it was only discovered during an internal investigation from February to May this year.
Due to failure to closely monitor the situation earlier and negligence some Customs officials, including former District Collector of Port of Manila Erastus Sandino Austria, Deputy Commissioner for Assessment Florante Ricarte, Informal Division Chief Gliceria Umandap, were charged with administrative cases.