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Senator Imee Marcos on Wednesday called out rice importers and corrupt Bureau of Customs (BoC) officials “exploiting” farmers’ cooperatives to “maximize their profits but deprive farmers of much needed government subsidies sourced from tariff collections.”

Marcos, chair of the Senate committee on economic reforms, said rice importers were using legitimate farmer cooperatives as conduits to avail of the latter’s tax exemptions.

White and well-milled rice imports were also being misdeclared as brown rice or broken rice for animal feed to get a discount on tariff payments.

Moreover, shipment costs were being undervalued as unspecified charges exempt from tariff, further shrinking customs revenue collections meant to subsidize the Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund, she said.

Marcos has filed Senate Resolution 549 urging an immediate investigation of misdeclared and undervalued rice imports as well as the “brazen return” of 34 of 43 rice importers previously blacklisted by former Agriculture secretary Emmanuel Piñol for using legitimate farmer cooperatives to avail of tax exemptions.

“The exploitation of legit farmer coops has happened before when the cartel of garlic importers solicited signatures to contrive a petition declaring a garlic shortage, paving the way for the Bureau of Plant Industry to allow large import volumes,” Marcos explained.

She said uncollected customs revenue on rice imports reached about P2.7 billion this year, depriving local farmers of much needed assistance as they struggle to cope with unrestricted importation under the rice tariffication law.

Some P1.6 billion in customs revenue losses owes to discrepancies between point-of-origin prices declared by rice importers and reference values of the BoC, which more than doubled from P945 per metric ton in 2019 to P2,416 per metric ton in January to May this year.

Freight and insurance costs were also being listed under “other charges” to avoid being included in tariff computations, resulting in more uncollected customs revenue of about P1.1 billion.

The Department of Agriculture estimates that 2.6 million metric tons of rice will be imported by the end of 2020, making up more than 20 percent of the country’s yearly rice consumption of some 12.9 million metric tons.

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