Thursday, March 09, 2006

Alleged smuggling activities in Subic port probed

THE REPORTED recent smuggling activities perpetrated in the Subic Bay Freeport is the subject of an ongoing inquiry by the Committee on Good Government under Representative Arthur Defensor (3rd District, Iloilo).

Prompted by the filing of House Resolution 537 primarily by Rep. Prospero Pichay Jr. (1st District, Surigao del Sur), the inquiry specifically looks into the alleged smuggling of branded canned meatloaf and electronic equipment worth P2 million out of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). The smuggling activities were purportedly committed by the men of retired Lt. Gen. Jose Calimlim, the chief of the Anti-Smuggling Task Force (ASTF) an a senior official of the SBMA.

It also seeks to inquire into the constitutionality of Executive Order 384, which empowers a senior official of the SBMA to combat violations of Customs laws at the SBMA area. Under this EO, Calimlim was designated by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo as the SBMA Director for Anti-Smuggling.

During the hearing, Rep. Pichay stated that the inquiry should be able to determine whether or not there is truth to the news report made by Jeff Tumbado, a reporter of Filipino Ngayon, on the alleged smuggling activities and to give Calimlim a chance to air his side.

He pointed out that the news report made a serious allegation when it stated that Calimlim whisked out canned goods from the Subic Bay Freeport and loaded them into a van marked ?Calimlim Farm Co.? If the allegations were true, the act of Calimlim would be tantamount to smuggling, he averred.

?The fact that the general is the head of the ASTF and a senior official and director of the SBMA is very alarming,? he stressed.

Rep. Pichay emphasized that the reported rampant smuggling in the Subic Bay Freeport is an embarrassment to the government and to prospective investors and locators in the area.

The law allows the duty-free importation of goods and equipment in the country?s freeport zones provided they are consumed or used within the zones, the imported goods will be subject to taxes and duties if these are brought out of the freeport zones, except those allowed by law such as the benefits granted to tourists and balikbayans.

Calimlim, a retired military official who was in service for 38 years, clarified at the outset that his return to the government service was prompted only by the invitation of President Macapagal-Arroyo.

According to Calimlim, the powers granted to him under EO 384 as the SMBA director for anti-smuggling were only meant to assist him in curbing smuggling activities in the freeport.

He asserted that he performs his mandate in coordination with the Bureau of Customs (BOC), Philippine Ports Authority (PPA), Philippine National Police (PNP), and Philippine Coast Guard, among others, he said.

Calimlim denied involvement

Calimlim denied any involvement in the smuggling of meat loaf (maling) and electronic equipment as reported.

He explained that the closed van referred to in the news report was used by his men to transport furniture and some personal effects from Pangasinan to his temporary house in Subic. ?If the van was closed, how come the reporter knew that there were canned goods and electronic equipment worth P2 million inside the van?? he asked.

The anti-smuggling czar also pointed out that he has not confiscated any meatloaf or electronic equipment as alleged in the news report. This he told the Committee, as he assured the lawmakers that he is dutifully performing his mandate.

He also expressed willingness to relinquish his post if the accusation hurled against him in the news report were found to be true.

The body decided to invite reporter Jeff Tumbado of Filipino Ngayon in the next meeting so that he can prove his allegations.

Cargo screening

On the query of Rep. Catalino Figueroa (2nd District, Western Samar), Calimlim explained that previously, there were three color-coded lanes used in screening cargoes landing in SBMA. These lanes are color-coded as follows: green for items requiring no inspection; yellow for those subjected to random inspection; and red for those required to undergo full inspection.

However, Calimlim clarified that access to the green lane was abused, which led the SBMA to redesign the screening process.

He informed the body that the current screening process allowed them to apprehend several undeclared cargoes.

He mentioned that some of these were declared as secondhand appliances but were in fact luxury vans, while some were declared as computer parts, but turned out to be P25-million worth of jewelry.

Cases filed

Replying to the question of Rep. Federico Sandoval II (Malabon-Navotas), Calimlim said that business entities responsible for these undeclared shipments have been suspended and cases against them have already been filed. To date, he added, 11 locators have been suspended.

To shed more light on the alleged smuggling activities in Subic Bay Freeport, the Committee decided to invite the following officials to its next meeting: former SBMA chair Felicito Payumo; incumbent SBMA chair Francisco Licuanan III; SBMA Administrator Alfredo Antonio; former Customs Commissioner George Jereos; incumbent Customs Commissioner Alberto Lina; owners of the suspended business establishments in the freeport; and other former and incumbent SBMA officials and customs collectors.

Likewise, the body requested Calimlim to submit the list of shipments that were allowed to be brought outside the Subic Bay freeport and those that were confined in the area for the use of the locators.

The body also requested District Collector Marietta Zamoranos to submit all documents pertinent to the entry of seven containers of maling, which according to her, were released by the BOC for donation to the typhoon victims in the provinces of Quezon and Aurora last year.l

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