By Mary Grace Padin (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 9, 2017 – 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines – The Manila Regional Trial Court (RTC) has granted the petition of Bulacan-based cigarette manufacturer Mighty Corp. for a temporary restraining order (TRO) on raids and inspection of its warehouses by the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
In a phone interview with The STAR, Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS) Director Neil Anthony Estrella confirmed the issuance of the TRO by Judge Tita Bughao Alisuag of Manila RTC on March 6.
A copy of the TRO obtained by The STAR showed it was issued in response to Mighty Corp.’s questioning the validity of the raids conducted by the BOC and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) in their warehouses in Pampanga and General Santos City last week.
Mighty’s complaint filed on March 3 said BOC and BIR operatives discovered “there were no counterfeit, fake or smuggled goods” in the warehouses but still proceeded with the raid, the conduct of which was not in the scope of their mission order.
The TRO is effective from the filing of the case on March 3 to March 23, while a hearing on the preliminary injunction has been set for March 14.
“The BOC will continue to perform its regular enforcement mandate. Public interest and compliance of the law will always prevail,” Estrella said. It was not clear if he was referring to raiding of Mighty warehouses.
Estrella also clarified the body investigating the case against the owners of the seized cigarette products is the BIR.
The STAR tried but failed to contact the BIR for comment on how the TRO would affect its investigation.
But in a separate interview, BIR Commissioner Caesar Dulay expressed disappointment over the lack of cooperation from Mighty Corp., contrary to what it had pledged to the National Bureau of Investigation.
“Unfortunately, when we had our first validation in Pampanga (on Tuesday), we got a different manifestation of cooperation from Mighty. We were supposed to inspect six warehouses … unfortunately, they (the teams) were met by a battery of lawyers from Mighty,” Dulay said.
“Expecting the cooperation pledged by Mighty, the team instead was questioned, their authority was questioned, their use of the taggant reader was questioned, they were questioned at every corner by the lawyers,” he said.
“They were supposed to start at 8 o’clock, it was about 11 o’clock that they were able to start their validation,” he pointed out.
In the end, Dulay said the BIR was only able to finish the validation of half of the contents of one warehouse. He said 50 cases of cigarettes were all verified to be bearing fake tax stamps.
“The validation process as of today continues. We seek to finalize it in a few days time and prepare whatever report we have for discussion with the DOJ (Department of Justice) and the NBI. I’m talking only of the process made in Pampanga because as you have seen, there were raids also made by the BOC in Zamboanga, General Santos, Tacloban and in Cebu,” Dulay said.