POSTSCRIPT / March 16, 2014 / Sunday


Opinion Columnist

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Anti-smuggling COCAS worked before. Try it!

REVIVE COCAS!: It is not entirely new, but here is an earnest proposal on how to minimize the massive smuggling that, according to United Nations statistics, deprived the government of P169 billion in revenue in 2011 and P204 billion in 2012.

This proposal worked famously when it was adopted in 2005. It reversed – again according to UN figures — government revenue losses due to smuggling from P26 billion in 2004 to P19 billion the following year.

Former trade and industry undersecretary Ernesto M. Ordonez, current head of Alyansa Agrikultura, proposes the revival of a permanent Cabinet oversight committee against smuggling (COCAS), which includes private sector representatives.

In 2005, Customs had no choice but to respond to COCAS questions and recommendations, because of its multi-department and multi-sectoral composition. Why not try it again if there is no better idea?

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TOO SUCCESSFUL: The COCAS was abolished in 2006, however, when it got too successful and exposed high officials’ involvement in smuggling.

Chaired by then Interior Secretary Angelo Reyes, it helped reduce smuggling, in terms of value, to $2.69 billion from the $3.69 billion recorded in 2004. After its abolition, smuggling losses went up the next year to $5.48 billion, and have kept soaring.

Reviving COCAS was broached by Ordonez in last Friday’s forum of the Capampangan in Media Inc. (CAMI) co-sponsored by the Clark Development Corp. and the Social Security System at the Bale Balita (House of News) at the Clark Freeport.

Since COCAS’ abolition, the value of smuggled or underreported goods rose annually to the now staggering $28.37 billion in 2012, or a 33-percent gap representing the underreported values of shipments.

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SOARING LOSSES: Ordonez said that illicit entry of agricultural products, including rice, accounts for only 12 percent of the total smuggling. Other items include new and used cars and parts, machine parts, electronic and telecommunications equipment, garments, chemicals and toys.

United Nations trade statistics culled from the top 25 countries contributing 86-91 percent of Philippine imports show that after smuggling dropped in 2005, the annual percentage of underreported (mostly smuggled) imports soared after COCAS operations were stopped:

In 2006 – 11 percent underreporting (resulting in P39.5 billion losses); 2007 – 16 percent (P66.7 billion); 2008 – 24 percent (P112.2 billion); 2009 – 26 percent (P107 billion); 2010 – 28 percent (P142.4 billion); 2011 – 30 percent (P169.3 billion); and 2012 – 33 percent (P204.3 billion).

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EXTRA STEPS: On rice smuggling, Ordonez proposed that in addition to a permanent COCAS, authorities should take these steps:

• Investigate and prosecute immediately parties involved in rice smuggling, from the smugglers themselves to the Customs personnel who connive with them.

• Customs to secure a clear official statement from the Justice department and the Office of the General Corporate Counsel saying “rice import restrictions are still in effect” which should prevent court-issued temporary restraining order (TROs) slapped on the seized smuggled from lapsing and favoring smugglers.

• Customs to secure the judicious resolution from the Supreme Court of the case filed last Jan. 17 by Jimmy Tadeo of the National Rice Farmers Association against Judge Emmanuel Carpio, who allegedly failed to observe due process in ordering Customs to release seized smuggled rice; press the Ombudsman to resolve a case filed last Jan. 17 by Trining Domingo of the Rural Women’s Congress against one lawyer Jesus D. Buco, who allegedly misrepresented government’s position in relation to the case of the released rice.

• Require overseas rice suppliers to automatically transmit the “Inward Foreign Manifest” to the Agriculture department identifying the items in a shipment.

• Include the Agriculture department in the Customs bureau’s Valuation and Classification Committee to guard against technical smuggling.

• Provide import-export information from the Customs bonded warehouses to detect smuggled leakages of imported items.

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HARRY+MITHI: Remember former US Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. who endeared himself to Filipinos by being accessible and trying to converse with them in their language?

He got married at 2:45 p.m. yesterday (March 15)  in New York to Mithi I. Aquino, daughter of Col. Dan Aquino (ret.) and Dr. Zenaida Inciong Aquino.

Friends describe Mithi as “truly down-to-earth, no airs, and super-modest”. A human resources executive, she places, recruits and trains Filipino employees in the hospitality industry, such as those hired as crew of international cruise liners. Her two younger sisters are Mutya, a pharmacist, and Mayumi, a dentist. Unfortunately, her parents recently had hip replacement surgery and could not travel for the wedding.

Harry is now on sabbatical as diplomat in residence in the Arizona State University, in Tempe, Arizona, teaching a course on Sustainable Economics. He will return to the State Department for posting after his sabbatical.

Both Harry and Mithi were previously married and are now divorced. He has a daughter and Mithi has a 18-year-old son and a 16-year-old daughter.

Fr. Freddy Balinog, SJ, officiated at the wedding at the Church of the Blessed Sacrament on the Upper West Side – 152 West 71st Street. Feast and merriment followed at the Lotos Club, a 144-year-old literary private club on 66th Street, off Fifth Avenue.

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GOLF TOURNEY: Golfers have three days to snap up the few remaining slots in the First Clark Golf Cup scheduled to blast off on Friday at the Mimosa Golf & Country Club at the Clark Freeport, Pampanga. The ceremonial tee-off will be at 7:30 a.m., followed at 8 the game proper. Awarding program and the raffle follow immediately at the nearby Pagcor Casino in Mimosa. 

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 16, 2014)

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