MANILA – At least six Customs officials have been transferred to the Office of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) Commissioner pending results of the investigation into alleged smuggling of sugar products at the Port of Subic in Zambales, Malacañang announced Wednesday.

Press Secretary Trixie-Cruz Angeles confirmed in a Palace briefing the transfer of the BOC officials because of their supposed participation in the smuggling of sugar from Thailand.

The transferred Customs personnel were Maritess Martin, district collector; Maita Acevedo, deputy collector for assessment; Giovanni Ferdinand Leynes, deputy collector for operations; Belinda Lim, chief of assessment division; Vincent Mark Malasmas, Enforcement Security Service (ESS) commander; and Justice Roman Geli, Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) supervisor.

"In-assign sila o trinansfer sila sa Office of the Commissioner (They have been transferred to the Office of the [BOC] Commissioner), while the investigation is ongoing," Cruz-Angeles said.

In an office order dated Aug. 22, acting BoC Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz “temporarily transferred to the Office of the Commissioner” the six Customs officials, pending the results of the inquiry into the alleged smuggling of sugar from Thailand.

The order takes effect "immediately," based on a copy of the order released by the Office of the Press Secretary.

On Aug. 18, the BOC averted the possible smuggling of 140,000 bags of imported sugar from Thailand, which is equivalent to 7,021 metric tons.

The BOC learned that the import permit used for the cargo was “recycled.”

According to the initial probe conducted by the BOC-CIIS, the said permit was already used in an old sugar allocation.

'Heads may roll'

Cruz-Angeles said heads may roll if there is "sufficient" evidence against the BOC officials accused of being involved in the smuggling of sugar.

"Pagka-sufficient na yung ebidensya, reasonable na 'yung amount ng ebidensya, then subject to administrative proceedings na sila. Ang pinakamatinding penalties sa admin case ay dismissal from office, pero without prejudice to criminal charges. (If the evidence against them is sufficient and reasonable, then they will be subject to administrative proceedings. The most stringent penalty in an administrative case is dismissal from office, but without prejudice to criminal charges)," she said.

The cargo vessel MV Bangpakaew was found to be loaded with 7,021 metric tons of Thailand white refined sugar equivalent to 140,000 bags and with a total tax payment valued at PHP45,623,007.

Results of the initial investigation found that the consignee of the smuggled sugar is Oro-Agritrade Inc., which is under the account of ARC Refreshments Corp. under Entry Nos. C-12513 and C-12521.

The Thai exporter is listed as Ruamkamlarp Export Co. Ltd, while the local customs broker was identified as Malou Leynes Buerano.

The BOC-CIIS reported that the cargo is covered by a “Special Permit to Discharge (SPD) and Verified Single Administrative Document (SAD)” from the bureau and with a verified clearance from the SRA through a certain Rondell Manjarres.

Sought for comment, Ruiz said the relief of the officials is part of the standard procedure while an investigation is being conducted.

"We do not grant interviews as of this time while the investigation is ongoing. Please allow us to do our investigation properly, sincerely, and in silence,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Willie Sarmiento has been designated as Port of Subic's officer-in-charge District Collector. (with Ferdinand Patinio/PNA)