Senator lashes at Customs reps over ‘big-time’ fuel smuggling

PHILIPPINE STAR/ WALTER BOLLOZOS

THE SENATE Energy Committee chair called out customs officials in a hearing on Thursday for claiming to have no information on “big-time oil smugglers” and failing to prosecute those caught evading the fuel marking program.

“This is the list of big-time oil smugglers,” Senator Rafael “Raffy” T. Tulfo, who chaired the hearing, said in a mix of English and Filipino as he presented a list with nine names.

“But it seems you do not know them” even when ordinary citizens do, he added. “This is supposed to be your job, to go after oil smugglers, to identify who these people are.”

Bureau of Customs special agent Anthony Escandor, speaking at the hearing, reported that the agency has so far seized 2.1 million liters of smuggled fuel.

“I will report the ones under disposition because the others are under seizure proceedings,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino. “We have already disposed of 36,750 liters of the diesel by donating them to the Philippine Coast Guard.”

“We also have 10,669 liters of diesel that was for official use,” he added.

Mr. Tulfo questioned why proceedings for bulk of the confiscated fuel seemed to be “taking so long” and alleged that these have most likely already been released to the market and sold at cheaper rates.

“What happened to the others? You are unable to answer me directly. You said they are still under seizure proceedings, but it’s taking so long,” he said.

Mr. Escandor vowed to send more information to the committee after the hearing.

The senator said the government’s fuel marking program appears to be ineffective in improving tax collection and addressing smuggling.

Under the marking program that started on Sept. 4, 2019, fuel is marked with a special dye to signify tax compliance. An absence of the dye is considered an indication that the fuel may be smuggled. The program is authorized by Republic Act 10963, or the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) law. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan