(STAR) TAKIN’ CARE OF BUSINESS By Babe Romualdez - With the Christmas season just around the corner, legitimate importers are once again concerned about smuggled goods flooding the country and seriously undercutting their business. Smuggling is one of the worst kinds of economic sabotage against this country, with almost P200 billion lost in revenues every year. All kinds of products are smuggled – from plastic resins, onions, meat, chicken, toys, sugar to clothing to oil. Many of these products are killing businesses of local manufacturers who are forced to compete with the dirt-cheap prices of these smuggled goods especially those coming from China.

But more than outright smuggling, what’s really costing losses for businessmen and government is technical smuggling, where goods are simply misclassified, mis-declared, under-evaluated or under-declared. Customs bonded warehouses (CBWs) are also being used as fronts by these technical smugglers since these bonded warehouses are allowed to receive dutiable raw materials directly from the ports without having to pass through Customs inspection. These CBWs are granted almost tax-free accommodation as long as raw materials stocked inside are used only for the manufacture of certain products for export, not for local consumption.

Unfortunately, the raw materials being stocked in these warehouses are used for the manufacture of products sold to local consumers – which spells huge losses both for legitimate businessmen and the government considering that CBW operators are only charged P250 per container van as long as they adhere to Customs rules and regulations. Worse, some of these CBWs are reportedly non-existent, with import and export transactions passing undeterred through these bogus CBWs. Of course, that goes without saying that these smugglers are able to get away with the collusion of corrupt customs officials especially those deployed in major ports in the country like Manila, Subic and Batangas.

Compounding the problem is the fact that the country has a lot of long, irregular coastlines and many isolated islands that give smugglers potential landing sites and storage areas. Worse, these are being used for smuggling of firearms and illegal drugs by terrorists who make use of fishing boats, cargo ships and other passenger vessels. Drugs is especially a concern even for the international community especially in light of the fact that the 2006 US International Narcotics Control Strategy Report tagged the Philippines as a “drug smuggler’s paradise.”

It looks like Presidential Anti-smuggling Group (PASG) chief Bebot Villar has his hands full going after these economic saboteurs. Just recently, hog farmers wrote Villar appealing for more vigilance in keeping out mis-declared – and tainted, we might add – meat and poultry products that are expected to flood the market as the holiday season nears. What’s especially worrisome is that these products – which may not even have the necessary quarantine clearances – could be carrying foot and mouth disease and the avian flu virus.

I’ve been told the PASG chief has been getting death threats, but then again, this probably goes with the territory considering the billions that these economic saboteurs are stealing from the government in terms of unpaid dues and taxes. It’s only been five months since the creation of the PASG but they’ve apprehended close to 800 container vans in various ports and have conducted successful operations resulting in the seizure of products (resin, white onions, used clothing and even raw materials used in the production of shabu) amounting to hundreds of millions. Let’s hope the PASG will be able to resist pressure from certain influential people, and sustain the work of curbing smuggling activities in the country.

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Nov. 1 is the time when Filipinos pay their respects to their loved ones. It’s unbelievable but it’s been a year since our late STAR publisher and Manila Overseas Press Club chairman Max Soliven died.

In January of next year, we will be launching the first ever Maximo V. Soliven Journalism Award of the MOPC. The first awardee will be chosen from several nominees submitted to the MOPC Board of Governors. Our current Manila Overseas Press Club chairman Tony Lopez will be announcing the first awardee during that special event honoring Max Soliven.

Max was one of the most renowned journalists in the Philippines. He was the MOPC chairman for several years. The award will pay tribute to a man who was both revered and envied by many of his peers all over the world.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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