Customs welcomes Supreme Court TRO on Davao illegal rice imports
The Bureau of Customs (BOC) welcomes the issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) by the Supreme Court that stops the enforcement of a ruling handed down by Branch 16 of the Regional Trial Court in Davao City. The TRO from the Supreme Court bars the enforcement of an order issued by RTC Branch 16 Judge Emmanuel Carpio last December 12, 2013 that restrains the District Collector of the BOC in the Port of Davao from seizing, alerting or holding rice shipments of petitioner Joseph Ngo, a businessman who purchased rice imported by Starcraft International Trading Corporation.
The TRO is effective immediately until further orders from the Court. The Supreme Court considered “meritorious” the arguments raised by the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) regarding the lack of adequate representation of the BOC during the hearings before the Davao RTC and the lack of legal standing of Ngo to sue.
“This is good news for the Bureau of Customs and even better news for our farmers. The action taken by the Supreme Court should serve as a strong signal to judges that injunctions issued by the lower courts pertaining to rice importations without permits are at the very least questionable or suspect. The Magistrates of the High Tribunal are closely watching this issue, judging by their prompt action on our application for a TRO. We are committed to challenging court orders that favor illegal rice importations that no doubt have a devastating effect on our farmers,” said Customs Commissioner John Sevilla.
Ngo purchased 15 shipments containing 91,800 bags of white rice either from Thailand or Singapore from Starcraft International Trading Corporation. Ngo was informed that the shipments could not be released without proper import permits from the National Food Authority (NFA). Ngo filed a complaint with the Davao RTC and sought an injunction, citing that the expiration of the Special Treatment for Rice Importation under the World Trade Organization meant that quantitative restrictions such as requiring import permit on the importation of rice may no longer be imposed.
Last month, the BOC was compelled to release 167 container vans with 3,348 tons of rice from Vietnam from the Port of Davao in compliance with the Preliminary Injunction issued by Judge Carpio. With the TRO issued by the Supreme Court in effect, the BOC can continue to hold the remaining 85 containers of rice imported by Starcraft that are being held at the Port of Davao.
To date, the BoC has put on hold a total of 1,822 container vans of rice that were imported without the required import permits from the NFA through the ports of Manila, the Manila International Container Port. Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, Batangas and Davao, accounting for an estimated 50,000 metric tons.
“The TRO issued by the Supreme Court clearly establishes the legal right of the Bureau to hold these rice shipments. We earnestly hope that the OSG can help us secure similar rulings in the Manila and Batangas RTCs whose injunctions have helped rice smugglers,” Sevilla added.
Last January 30, Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 54 Judge Maria Paz R. Reyes-Yson issued a Preliminary Injunction that prevents the Bureau of Customs from implementing any alerts, seizures, or hold orders, whether current or future, against rice shipments of Starcraft International Trading Corporation. On the other hand another Writ of Preliminary Injunction issued by Executive Judge Eutiquio L. Quitain of the Region IV, Branch 5 Regional Trial Court in Lemery, Batangas prevents the Bureau of Customs from implementing any alerts, seizures, or hold orders in the future against rice shipments of Bold Bidder Marketing and General Merchandise.