(File photo)

MANILA – Officials of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) on Tuesday denied their supposed involvement in agricultural smuggling in the country.

“I vehemently deny the accusations against me on my alleged involvement in agricultural smuggling based on a supposed ‘validated’ list. Law enforcement agencies such as the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and the Philippine National Police (PNP) denied the release or submission of any Intelligence Report from their respective agencies allegedly implicating any BOC official in any smuggling activity,” Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero said in a statement.

The BOC chief's remarks came after he and several other officials of the bureau were named as alleged protectors and smugglers of agricultural products in a report of the Senate Committee of the Whole on Monday.

Guerrero said the numerous accomplishments of BOC in its campaign against agricultural smuggling, and the adoption of the executive recommendations, which he directed, were cited by the Senate in its report.

“Among these recommendations we implemented are the strengthened inter-agency collaboration and data exchange of relevant information and documents such as the Inward Foreign Manifest, among others," he added.

He said they have also allowed the Department of Agriculture (DA) representatives to take part in the non-intrusive inspection of containers to ensure full transparency in the examination of agricultural products.

"The BOC also offered DA to deputize its personnel for enforcement operations. We allocated more resources to enforcement assets through the procurement of 200 body-worn cameras, 20 units of fast patrol vessels, 60 advanced mobile X-ray machines, 16 Trace Detection Systems, and 100 rifles. Further, 199 new enforcement personnel were hired, and 40 were promoted in 2018,” he added.

He also reported the establishment of the Customs Operations Center (COC) which serves as a fusion center to integrate and analyze intelligence, enforcement, and operational information gathered from various sources.

The COC proves to be effective in guarding the borders by the immediate processing of all information and ultimately deterring any possible violation.

“In addition, 82 percent or 139 out of the 170 Customs processes are now automated to reduce human intervention that provides an avenue for negotiation. Continuous trainings are also conducted for our intelligence and enforcement agents in relation to technical capabilities in determining quality, description, and types of agricultural commodities,” Guerrero said.

With these measures in place, he noted that they were able to seize a total of PHP2.5 billion worth of smuggled agricultural products in various ports nationwide from 2016 to May 2022, while a total of 111 criminal cases have been filed before the Department of Justice against unscrupulous stakeholders.

Also, 84 importers and customs brokers involved in agricultural smuggling were revoked of their accreditation in 2019.

Meanwhile, Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) director Jeoffrey Tacio also denied the allegations.

“I vehemently deny that I am a coddler of smugglers. In fact, the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS), under my command, has been at the forefront in the drive against agricultural smuggling and continues to be relentless in conducting enforcement operations at the ports, warehouses outside ports, and public markets against smuggled agricultural products,” the BOC official said.

He reported that from 2019 to the present, a total of 548 seizure operations against agricultural products worth PHP2 billion, were recorded by BOC.

“Furthermore, recognizing that agricultural smuggling cannot be solved alone by BOC, we have been consistently coordinating with the DA and its Bureaus together with the Department of Trade and Industry’s Sub-Task Group on Economic Intelligence (STG-EI),” Tacio said.

He added that they continue to work closely with other law enforcement agencies in carrying out anti-smuggling operations.

Aside from Guerrero and Tacio, other BOC officials identified on the list were Deputy Commissioner for Intelligence Group Raniel Ramiro; Deputy Commissioner Vener Baquiran of the Customs Revenue Collection Monitoring Group and lawyer Yasser Abbas of the Customs Import and Assessment Service. (PNA)