Marcos seeks probe on misdeclared, undervalued rice imports

Published October 21, 2020, 10:58 AM

by Mario Casayuran

Senator Imee R. Marcos has filed Senate Resolution 549 urging an immediate investigation of misdeclared and undervalued rice imports as well as the “brazen return” of 34 of 43 rice importers previously blacklisted by former Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Emmanuel Piñol for using legitimate farmer cooperatives to avail of tax exemptions.

Senator Imee R. Marcos (Senate of the Philippines / MANILA BULLETIN)

Marcos called out corrupt Bureau of Customs (BOC) officials and rice importers exploiting hard-pressed farmers’ cooperatives to maximize their profits but deprive farmers of much needed government subsidies sourced from tariff collections.

Marcos, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Economic Reforms, said that rice importers were using legitimate farmer cooperatives as conduits to avail of the latter’s tax exemptions.

White and well-milled rice imports were also being misdeclared as brown rice or broken rice for animal feed to get a discount on tariff payments.

Shipment costs were being undervalued as unspecified charges exempt from tariff, further shrinking customs revenue collections meant to subsidize the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF).

“The exploitation of legit farmer coops has happened before when the cartel of garlic importers solicited signatures to contrive a petition declaring a garlic shortage, paving the way for the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) to allow large import volumes,” Marcos said.

She said the uncollected customs revenue on rice imports has reached about P2.7 billion this year, depriving local farmers of much needed assistance as they struggle to cope with unrestricted importation under the rice tariffication law.

Some P1.6 billion in customs revenue losses were due to discrepancies between point-of-origin prices declared by rice importers and reference values of the BoC, which more than doubled from P945 per metric ton in 2019 to P2,416 per metric ton in January to May this year.

Freight and insurance costs were also being listed under “other charges” to avoid being included in tariff computations, resulting in more uncollected customs revenue of about P1.1 billion. 

The DA estimates that 2.6 million metric tons of rice will be imported by the end of 2020, making up more than 20 percent of the country’s annual rice consumption of some 12.9 million metric tons.

Marcos said that local rice farmers can produce more than 90 percent of the country’s rice needs and that only seven percent to 10 percent needs to be imported.

“The Philippines is ironically the world’s largest rice importer, even as it is the world’s eighth largest rice producer,” she pointed out.