The Bureau of Customs (BOC) has confiscated P244 million-worth of smuggled, unregistered or counterfeit personal protective equipment (PPEs) and other medical supplies since March 25 up to May 31, 2020, as part of its ongoing efforts to stop the illegal importation, storage and hoarding of goods deemed essential to the fight against the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).
In a report to Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III, the BOC said that while it has released various regulations to facilitate and speed up the process of importing PPEs and other medical supplies, some unscrupulous traders have taken advantage of the coronavirus-induced crisis to smuggle such items into the country.
Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero said in his report to Dominguez that he has issued 10 Letters of Authority covering the inspection of persons and premises suspected of selling or storing smuggled and/or unregistered medicines and equipment from March 25 to May 31 this year.
“Moreover, profiling/targeting of imported shipments suspected to contain contraband and other smuggled articles were intensified. As a result a total of P244.4 million-worth of smuggled/counterfeit/unregistered PPE and medicines were seized by the Bureau,” Guerrero said.
Last May 1, various pieces of PPEs and Chinese medicines supposed to cure COVID-19 and estimated to cost around P70 million were seized by the BOC in a warehouse in Singalong, Manila.
Guerrero said in his report that the medicines, which were contained in about 360 boxes, were not registered with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Aside from these unregistered items, Guerrero said the goods seized by the BOC in various operations included the following:
· P5 million worth of masks, gloves, goggles, alcohol, thermal scanners, test tubes and syringes under the name of Philmed Dynasty Supplies Corp. based in Binondo, Manila;
· An estimated P30 million-worth of various PPEs, such as gloves, masks, and googles under the name of ELJ1 Medical Shop based in Sta. Cruz, Manila; and
· An estimated P9 million-worth of various PPEs, such as gloves, masks, goggles from the Medical Outlet based in Rizal Avenue, Manila.
· An estimated P80 million-worth of various PPEs, such as gloves, masks, goggles, medicines, and foodstuffs from an establishment located at HK Sun Plaza, Macapagal Blvd., Pasay City.
· An estimated P400,000-worth of various medical supplies and medicines from Ton Ren Tang Chinese Medication, Binondo, Manila.
· An estimated P50 million-worth of various medical equipment and supplies from Omnibus Biomedical Systems.
The cases involving these smuggled or unregistered products are now the subject of forfeiture proceedings by the BOC before the law division of the Manila International Container Port (MICP), Guerrero said.
Guerrero said that aside from these items, the BOC has also seized 2.2 kilograms (kg) of imported Chinese medicines without FDA clearance last April 27, and has initiated the filing of appropriate charges against their importers and consignees.
Another five boxes of Chinese medicines containing 48,000 medicinal tablets and bundled with 238 master cases of assorted imported cigarettes; 4 drums of toluene-2.4 diisocyanate; 2 drums of propylene glycol; 2 drums of glycerol-propoxylate-block-ethoxylate; 2 drums of vacuum pump oil; 2 drums of paraffin oil; 2 drums of power steering fluid; 1 drum of sodium hypochlorite; and 2 drums of siloxane were confiscated from a warehouse in Valenzuela City last April 30.
Guerrero said these were seized and taken into custody by the BOC for failure of the owner to present the required import documents for these items.