What is a visitorial power?
A visitorial power is the capacity of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) to inspect, visit, and enter warehouses where imported goods are stored.
Under Republic Act No. 11469, the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act, the President has the power to enforce measures to protect the people from hoarding, profiteering, manipulation of prices, cartels, or other pernicious practices affecting the supply, distribution, and movement of food and other articles of prime necessity, whether imported or locally produced or manufactured.
In the past week, President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. directed the BOC to exercise visitorial powers to importers as one of the measures in the issue of price hikes and artificial supply shortage of sugar in the Philippines.
When is a visitorial power exercised?
This is power is exercised, through the conduct of inspections of warehouses, such as on reports of smuggling.
The smuggling of agricultural products, such as sugar, violates not only customs laws, but also other laws, such as the Price Act, because it affects the availability of supply and stability of prices of agricultural products.
The Price Act, or Republic Act No. 7581 as amended by Republic Act No. 10623, prohibits any person habitually engaged in the importation, storage, distribution, or sale of basic necessities from engaging in acts of price manipulation, such as hoarding, profiteering, or cartel.
Sugar is among those enumerated in the Price Act as basic necessities which the BOC and other relevant government agencies acted upon.
Is it lawful for customs to exercise police authority in these inspections under visitorial power?
According to Customs Administrative Order (CAO) 03-2019, the BOC is authorized to exercise police authority on all shipments for import and export that are suspected of smuggling and ensure proper implementation of the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) and related laws.
During the circumstances that the Customs in exercising this authority, government and law enforcement agencies can assist in the conduct of inspections.
The BOC conducted its inspections (as directed by the President in cooperation with the DTI, DA, and PNP) of shipments in warehouses and those in transit to act on reports of smuggling and hoarding, as well as to determine the inventory of sugar supply in the market.
The inspections are authorized by Letters of Authority (LOA) and Mission Orders (MO) pursuant to the CAO 03-2019 and the CMTA.
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