By John Victor D. Ordoñez and Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson, Reporters

A PHILIPPINE senator has called on the Bureau of Customs (BoC) to file criminal complaints against rice smugglers, who he says are responsible for spiking grain prices.

“Why haven’t I heard anyone sued for economic sabotage or something? Who owns these warehouses? Who are the people involved?” Senator Francis “Chiz” G. Escudero said in a statement on Sunday.

He said the BoC should also disclose to the public known traders and operators whose warehouses were raided by state agencies and yielded hoarded grains.

“This is what they have to know the answer to: Who oversees the disposition and how will it be disposed of (criminal cases)?” Mr. Escudero said in Filipino, referring to the BoC.

Last Sept. 14, the BoC found reportedly smuggled rice worth an estimated P40 million during a raid of two warehouses in Las Piñas City in Metro Manila and Bacoor City in Cavite.

“The warehouses were verified storing/warehousing rice products from Vietnam, Thailand, and China,” the BoC said in a statement.

The BoC said the warehouse owner claimed that they were not importers but rice traders.

“During the investigation, it was discovered that the trader was selling a 25-kilo sack of Vietnamese rice for P1,320 in the market, equivalent to P52.8 per kilogram,” it added.

The BoC noted that the price significantly exceeds the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) prescribed range of P41-45 per kilogram for well-milled and regular-milled rice.

The warehouse owners have been given 15 days to submit necessary documents to support that their imported grains went through the proper legal processes.

Senator Cynthia A. Villar has sponsored a bill that seeks stiffer penalties against agricultural smugglers. Last Sept. 11, her proposed measure reached the Senate plenary for deliberations.

Citing government data, Ms. Villar, who heads the Senate Committee on Agriculture, said the government has been losing at least P200 billion in revenues due to smuggling.