Groups lament release of seized rice
Farmers’ rights advocates on Friday lamented the release from the Bureau of Customs’ custody 3.3 metric tons or 167 containers of milled rice allegedly smuggled into Davao City.
The civil society groups Rice Watch and Action Network (R1) and Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) expressed fears that this would pave the way for the release of close to 2,000 more containers the BOC has been holding since September 2013.
AA is a coalition of 42 federations and organizations of farmers and fishers while R1 is an action network focused on rice.
“The unprecedented successful seizure of so many (illegal) rice shipments is seriously undermined by the release of this initial batch of containers,” Rural Women’s Congress said in a joint statement.
In a separate statement, the BOC said it was releasing the batch of 167 containers, claimed by a certain Joseph Mangupag Ngo, in compliance with a preliminary injunction issued by the Davao City regional trial court.
“It is unfortunate that because of some judges in Davao, Manila and Batangas, we temporarily cannot stop the entry of rice without import permit into these areas,” Customs Commissioner John Sevilla said.
“We ask the affected farmers for understanding,” Sevilla said. “Whether we like or not, we have no choice but to obey the court.”
Jaime Tadeo, speaking for the National Council of Rice Farmers at a press briefing, said the release of the shipments “will kill the (domestic) rice industry because of the entry of cheap rice imports.”
“We will never achieve our goal of rice self-sufficiency,” Tadeo said. “With unstable prices and uncertain supply at a time of climate change, both consumers and rice farmers will suffer greatly.”
Last October, the National Food Authority said some 312,500 sacks of milled rice were shipped in through Davao over the previous four months, most of which had gone past customs without the necessary import permit from the NFA.
According to the NFA, the shipments included several cargoes totaling 62,800 sacks at 50 kilograms each and consigned to Starcraft.
On Friday, Ordoñez said in an interview that the release of the shipments would hurt local rice farmers’ income and livelihood as well as domestic rice production.
Acting on an appeal by Ngo, the Davao RTC also issued last Dec. 13 a writ of preliminary injunction stopping the BOC from seiz ing and holding Starcraft shipments.
Presiding judge Emmanuel C. Carpio said the court “finds the need to grant the injunctive relief sought for” considering that a full-blown trial is needed to determine whether or not the NFA still had the authority to restrict the quantity of rice imports under World Trade Organization rules that have expired on June 30, 2012.
The court noted that the rice shipments were perishable and a writ must be issued “to prevent irreparable damage” to the plaintiff.
With Ngo having posted an injunction bond of P5 million, which prompted the court to issue the writ, the farmers’ advocates fear that there was no more stopping of the other seized shipments being released.
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