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BOC supports death penalty vs. smuggling cohorts

Intelligence Group has its eyes on Lea Cruz, ‘Sibuyas Queen’

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THE BUREAU of Customs (BOC) said it supports any measure intended to break the back of smuggling in the country to include the proposal by Senator Robin Padilla to impose the death penalty on customs officials and other law enforcement operatives found involved in smuggling.

In a media interview over radio station DZRH, May 19, 2023, Atty. Vincent Maronilla, BOC spokesperson, said they do not object to Padilla’s proposal if it can help “deter” customs personnel from colluding with smugglers.

Padilla made the proposal during a Senate hearing on May 18, 2023 to discuss proposed amendments to RA 108645 or the ‘Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.’

“Magbibigay ako ng panukalang batas na kayo d’yan sa Bureau of Customs, kapag napatunayan kayong na-involve dito sa smuggling, dapat kamatayan din kayo,” the neophyte solon shouted, as he loses his cool after noting that agency representatives attending the hearing appear not to be paying attention to him.

Padilla made good on his threat by filing SB 2214 after the hearing ended.

Maronilla said he already conferred with Padilla on the issue and said he can understand the “frustration” of lawmakers over the continued incidence of smuggling, especially of agricultural products.

“Nagkaroon po tayo ng pagkakataon na makausap si Sen. Padilla at naiintidihan naman natin from where he is coming from.

“Ang frustration po talaga niya, sobra…kami naman po, wala naman kaming problema sa proposal na ‘yun (death penalty),” Maronilla said.

An earlier proposal by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, SB 2205 already sought to amend Section 3 of RA 10845 to include “any public employee or officer” who allowed the importation of agricultural products without the required import permit or of approving or granting any license, export declaration, clearance or permit knowing that the same is manifestly unlawful, inequitable or irregular in the classification of those engaged in large-scale smuggling of agricultural products.

‘Large-scale smuggling’ has been defined as “economic sabotage” under RA 10845 that carries a penalty of life imprisonment with no bail recommended.

‘Sibuyas Queen’ under continuing probe

Maronilla also corrected the wrong notion that the BOC is not pursuing cases involving customs personnel linked to smuggling.

Maronilla claimed an unnamed customs official ended up in jail for the offense with the case even being elevated to the Supreme Court.

He also bared that 4 individuals they charged for large-scale agricultural smuggling remain behind bars even as 127 other cases of large-scale smuggling, out of the 142 cases they filed, continue to be heard in court or under evaluation at the Department of Justice.

Maronilla also clarified that despite the absence of direct evidence, the BOC, thru the Intelligence Group headed by Deputy Commissioner Juvymax Uy, continues to probe Lilia Leah Cruz, tagged by Congress as on top of a “cartel” cornering the market for onions.

“Walang dokumento na direktang nag-lilink kay Ms. Lea sa smuggling at ‘pasulpot-sulpot’ (on and off) ang paglutang ng pangalan niya sa smuggling.”

Noting that smuggling is a ‘”predicate crime,” Maronilla said they had also sought the help of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLAC) to see the “financial linkage” of Cruz to importers they earlier apprehended for smuggling.

A congressional report released also last May 18, 2023 by the House Committee on Agriculture and Food, coinciding with the Senate hearing, said Cruz would be among the “individuals” whom they would recommend be charged in court, according to Quezon first district representative, Wilfrido Mark Enverga.

The probe on Cruz’s activities got serious after the country experienced an artificial shortage of onion supply leading to its retail price hitting over P700 per kilo last year.

The hearings conducted by the Lower House showed that Cruz has managed to control the entire onion market— ‘from head to toe’– according to Marikina City Rep. Estella Quimbo, thru her company, ‘Philippine VIEVA Corporation’ which, thru its other dummy corporations, managed to control the entire supply chain, from the buying and importation of onions to its storage and market distribution.

Maronilla said that while Cruz’s company does not have a record of importing onions, the BOC is not content to drop its investigation, given the many “reports” of Cruz’s activities.

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