All Charges Dismissed and Items Seized Returned
SUBIC BAY FREEPORT — The raid and seizure of food products by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) Intelligence & Investigation Office (IIO) on the warehouse of Phil-Em Enterprise, Inc. here last month (May 25) for alleged “tampering of expiry dates” was illegal, having been conducted on a defective Search Warrant.
According to Olongapo Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 97 Judge Melani Fay V. Tadili, the Search Warrant issued by Olongapo RTC Branch 74 Judge Michael F. Real was in direct violation of the basic rule that “a search warrant shall not issue but upon probable cause in connection with one specific offense” as stated in section 3, Rule 126 of the Revised Rule on Criminal Procedure.
“Search Warrant no. 2020-05 issued for such numerous acts is void, for having been issued for more than one specific offense,” Judge Tadili said in her ruling that quashed the warrant, “consequently, the search conducted on its authority is also void.”
Tadili also ordered “all items, products, equipment and machines seized… be returned to their owner.”
Charges against Phil-Em co-owner Philip Velasco, who was arrested and detained by the NBI for three days along with three (3) employees before being able to post P60,000 bail each, have been dropped.
Nhemia G. Velasco, Phil-Em sales & marketing manager said, “the malicious accusations of the NBI that Phil-Em procures, distributes, and exports fake, near expiry, and expired consumer products” are not true and that “”Phil-Em only procures, distributes, and exports genuine and freshly processed consumer products,” citing recent certifications of “support” from various suppliers of their “good standing.”
Copies shown and provided by Velasco to Subic Bay News include certifications from Neofoods Subic Corp., exclusive distributor of Nestle products that include Nescafe Coffee, Bear Brand Milk, Milo Chocolate Drink, and Maggi Magic Sarap Mix. “All products sold by Neofoods Subic Corporation to Phil-Em enterprises are all fresh and has an expiry of more than six (6) months from the date of delivery,” said GM Jerrick Darryl Chua.
“The 180 boxes of Royal Pasta and 135 boxes of Fiesta Pasta identified in the National Bureau of Investigation complaint are neither expired nor nearly expired, with expiry dates ranging from March 2022 – May 2022 and which were delivered on May 14, 2020,” Timothy Young, head, Food Service & Export of RFM Corp. said in the company’s certification.
A. Tung Chinggo (ATC) Manufacturing Corp., in the certification signed by Sales Admin Head Annabelle S. Herras said “the Ligo canned sardines supplying (sic) by A. Tung Chingco to Phil-Em Enterprises is always freshly produced” with shelf like of “three (3) years from the time it was manufactured.”
Phil-Em exports products to Canada, and Middle Eastern States that include Qatar and Dubai. Dubai-based Benchmark Foods Trading and Busthan Al Khleej of Qatar both said in separate certifications that they are “proud to be associated” with Phil-Em and “happy with their prompt and efficient services in our Business engagement.”
Phil-Em also supply food and non-food products to several hotels and restaurants in the Subic Bay Freeport.
SBMA SHOW CAUSE ORDER
Following the dismissal of the charges, Phil-Em Inc. has sent its response to SBMA’s “Show Cause Order” for Cancellation or Revocation of CRTE (Certificate of Registration and Tax Exemption) in connection with the alleged violation of SBMA Rules and Regulations as an offshoot of the NBI raid and seizure.
CRTE is issued by the SBMA, running a Freeport instead of a local government unit (LGU), as the equivalent of an LGU’s Business or Mayor’s Permit.
Phil-Em President Amanda G. Pathak, in her explanation, said the “administrative proceedings for the cancellation or revocation of Phil-Em’s CRTE is premature and without legal basis.”
Pathak asserted that “the allegations of the NBI in the complaint are pure fabrication, based on mere hearsay evidence, which should not be given any consideration.”
Pathak also reiterated that all products being brought in to the Freeport Zone are required to secure a “Bring-In Permit” from the SBMA which conduct a “series of evaluations and inspections” on the products, and therefore, could not have escaped the agency’s scrutiny.
NO SBMA PROTECTION
Velasco, in an interview with Subic Bay News expressed her “disappointment” with SBMA over what she called the agency’s “failure to protect” its locator from “unfounded and malicious allegations.”
An SBMA statement that said Phil-Em employees “were caught red-handed by law enforcers” tampering with the expiration dates of food products is “not only false but grossly unfair,” Velasco said “they should have at least exerted efforts to find out the real score.”
But SBMA Chairman and Administrator Wilma T. Eisma said “it would be very unfair for Phil-Em to say that it was not given due protection as an investor amidst the accusations levelled against it.”
Eisma explained that “as a government agency, the SBMA can only coordinate with the NBI when it initiated an investigation into Phil-Em and conducted a raid at its warehouse in accordance with a court-issued search warrant.”
“Despite the case filed against Phil-Em following the NBI raid, the SBMA still allowed the company to proceed with its exportation of two containers of Goldilocks products since its CRTE has not been suspended at that point and the products exported were not covered by the court order, Eisma said. “We reiterate our position that SBMA would always stand by the law and be firm but fair in its dealings with all stakeholders, Subic Bay Freeport investors included,” she added.
Velasco said a “disgruntled employee who has been subjected to disciplinary actions in the past could have initiated all this,” referring to an employee who may have resented being left out of the skeletal line-up of employees called to resume duties during the ongoing quarantine due to the Covid-19 (Wuhan Virus) pandemic.
She said some “expiry and best before” dates on products bound for abroad need to be “re-sequenced” from “day, month and year, or month, day, year order” to “year, month, day, as part of the export requirements” and “it was what the raiding team saw being done by our employees.”
“We do not need to change expiry dates since our products are not expired nor near expiration,” Velasco said, “we merely comply with what our foreign clients require.”
She added that suppliers “take back or replace any bad order, if any, so, why risk our business, and reputation unnecessarily?” (VVV)