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All for cheaper onions: Crew members attempt to smuggle nearly 40 kilos of onions, fruits into the PH

By Robertzon Ramirez and Rudy Santos, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 15, 2023 4:00 pm

How far will you go to look for cheaper onions?

The Philippine Airlines (PAL) is investigating at least 10 crew members for allegedly attempting to smuggle into the country nearly 40 kilos of onions and fruits from the Middle East. A four-page BOC memorandum obtained by The STAR stated that PAL crew members from Flight PR 655 from Riyadh were caught with 11.5 kilos of onions and six kilos of lemons with a total market value of $100.

Cabin crew from Flight PR 659 from Dubai were caught with 15.5 kilos of onions, 4.5 kilos of lemons, and a kilo of strawberries and blueberries amounting to $150, which were confiscated by the BOC upon arrival in the country.

PAL spokesperson Cielo Villaluna said the airline is “investigating the incident involving 10 crew members who were found to be carrying undeclared vegetables and fruits in their baggage after flying in from Riyadh and Dubai.”

The BOC said the two PAL flights from Riyadh and Dubai arrived at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 1 on Jan. 10, with the crew passing through the mandatory “customs lane” for checking of their luggage.

“After physical examination, the customs examiners found assorted agricultural products and referred the same to the plant quarantine officer Celeste Barrios of the Bureau of Plant Industry, who confiscated the goods for proper disposal,” the BOC memorandum stated.

The BOC said the crew members violated the Plant Quarantine Law of 1978 due to the lack of a phytosanitary certificate, Presidential Decree 1433 due to the lack of a plant quarantine clearance and Section 1404 of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act for failing to declare the produce.

The bureau recommended the confiscation of the goods and “appropriate legal action.”

BOC spokesman Arnaldo dela Torre Jr. said in a Viber message that no charges were filed against the 10 PAL crew members. He emphasized that the only actions taken during the incident were the confiscation of goods and their immediate turnover to quarantine authorities.

“Hindi naman po sila inaresto at wala naman po sa batas na dapat ikulong o i-aresto po sila,” he said.

He also explained that Republic Act 10845, the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016, only covers “large-scale smuggling of agricultural products.”

Note: This article originally appeared in The Philippine STAR newspaper on Sunday, Jan. 15.