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Forbidding rules

Uh-oh, one simple racket at the Bureau of Customs now smells of another reeking diplomatic trouble for the Aquino (Part II) administration.

Word is out that the BOC is set to hold another bidding for some 94,000 tons of rice worth about P100 million that farmer cooperatives claimed to have imported from Vietnam but which Customs intercepted out there in the sea and then seized about 10 months ago.

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From the looks of it, at least based on our information from the multibillion-peso rice dealing business, the bidding is shaping out to be just another sham, with the rules so forbidding that they seemed to be designed to turn it into another failed bidding.

Thus, while the BOC is still taking its sweet time to settle the dispute over the rice shipment, the Aquino (Part II) administration may have to confront another diplomatic protest—this time from our neighbor Vietnam.

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Since September 2012 the BOC held at the Port of Legazpi the Vietnamese cargo ship Minh Tuan 68 that carried the rice and the crew has reportedly been relying on the charity of some groups for food and provisions.

Now, rice smuggling hugged the headlines in the past couple of months while Customs Commissioner Ruzzano Rufino Biazon was under attack in media for all the dithering of customs on the issue of massive smuggling. All of a sudden, and seemingly at will, the BOC could announce seizures of huge shipments, one of them even worth more than P1 billion. No wonder then, the issue over that P100-million shipment of rice from Vietnam became talk of the rice business town.

It all started when, last September, the Philippine Coast Guard intercepted the Vietnamese vessel Minh Tuan 68 in mid-sea and ordered it to dock at the Legazpi port. Again, the vessel was still out there in the sea, inspiring some talk therefore that the authorities had some, ah, “intentions” over the shipment from the start.

In no time at all, moreover, customs personnel boarded the vessel and then without much ado confiscated the P100 million worth of rice shipment. Customs claimed that the consignees did not pay the duties and taxes on the shipment. It turned out that, as we reported earlier, the shipping agent in Vietnam committed errors in the documents, putting the wrong importing groups and the wrong port of entry. The real importers were the Samahan ng mga Kapampangan sa San Ildefonso Multipurpose Cooperative, Sili Multipurpose Cooperative and Green Valley United Cooperative. The port of entry should have been the Manila Harbour Center.

Those co-ops subsequently were able to produce the necessary documents to prove that the shipment was legitimate, even going to court to force the BOC to lift the confiscation order. They also argued that, as the legitimate importer of the shipment, the law (Tariff and Customs Code) gave 30 days to file the proper entry with the BOC for the shipment, but the BOC did not release the shipment to them. Moreover, they insisted to the BOC that even the law allowed changes in the shipping documents, particularly when “it is obvious that a clerical error or any other discrepancy has been committed.”

Subsequently, the BOC scheduled the seized rice shipment for bidding. Incidentally, a big-time rice dealer (well known in the business) even came out with newspaper ads to defend the BOC on the P100-million rice issue. Hmmm. Anyway, it was therefore not surprising to those in the rice trading business that the BOC would set the bidding rules to favor one particular rice dealer, as one of the farmer co-ops pointed out, thus creating a stir in media and forcing the BOC to declare it a failed bidding.

Word goes around that Customs is set to hold another bidding. Based on our info, Customs wants to set a fantastic floor price in the new bidding, which is said to be already equivalent to the retail price of rice—meaning, it is almost impossible to make a profit margin in the market. Simply put, nobody in his right mind will bid for the rice shipment at such a price. It can become another failed bidding, allowing the BOC to go into a negotiated sale for the huge rice shipment, which is just perfect for one of the bureau’s favored bidders in the first place.

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The Philippine Veterans Bank, or PVB, owned by some 400,000 Filipino veterans and their heirs, has a new chair—former Finance Secretary Roberto de Ocampo, known as “Bobby” in banking, taking over from his uncle Emmanuel de Ocampo. We all know that, as a banker and finance secretary, De Ocampo earned quite a few accolades here and abroad, which perhaps PVB can use for its own image after years of having to undergo rehabilitation to bring itself back to financial health.

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TAGS: Banking, Bureau of Customs, change in management, Diplomacy, imported rice, Minh Tuan 68, Philippine veterans bank, Philippines, Roberto de Ocampo, Trade, Vietnam
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