Farmers say agricultural smugglers go unpunished

  • 21 November 2022, Monday
  • Source/s: Bulatlat

Farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) lamented the continuous and worsening agricultural smuggling in the country despite the existence of a law and the anti-smuggling task force created by the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Bureau of Customs (BOC).

In 2016, Republic Act No. 10845, An Act Declaring Large-Scale Agricultural Smuggling as Economic Sabotage, Prescribing Penalties Therefor And For Other Purposes, took effect. This was supposed to protect the local farmers. However, six years after its enactment, smuggled agricultural products are still hurting local food producers.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III released a Senate investigation report in June this year, which listed 22 ‘persons of interest’ involved in large-scale agricultural smuggling, including Customs Chief Rey Leonardo Guerrero. Moreover, the BOC reviewed 126 cases per RA 10845.

Amid the records of those involved, KMP noted that the cases are still in the preliminary investigation, and no one was apprehended.

“No smugglers were charged with criminal charges. This only proves that there are untouchables who spearhead the extensive agricultural smuggling in the country,” said KMP chairperson emeritus Rafael Mariano.

The DA said that large-scale agricultural smuggling happens when “at least P10 million ($0.17 million) worth of rice, or at least P1 million ($0.017 million) worth of sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish, and cruciferous vegetables in either raw, processed, or preserved form is illegally brought into the country.”

Between 2019 and 2022 alone, the DA estimates P667.5 million ($11.64 million) of smuggled agri-fishery goods, while the BOC has conducted 542 seizure cases involving P1.99 billion ($0.035 billion) worth of agricultural products.

According to the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Areas, an average of P2.5 million ($0.044 million) or an estimated 20 to 40 percent of the daily earnings of the local farmers in Cordillera has been slashed because of vegetable smuggling from China.

The BOC reported the amount of agricultural products smuggled over the past four years. In 2019, P398.47 million ($6.95 million) worth of products were seized, while in 2020 and 2021, the smuggled agricultural products amounted to P284.62 million ($4.96 million) and P221.81 million ($3.87 million) respectively.

Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture conducted a study regarding the top agricultural products being smuggled into the Philippines. From 1986 to 2009, the research showed that milled rice was the most smuggled product in the country, amounting to P112.50 billion ($1.96 billion), followed by refined sugar at P25,726,230 ($448.56 million); beef at P24,612,690 ($429.14 million); and onion at P14,897,910 million ($259.76 million).

“The rice farmers’ condition is saddening already, and now, the incessant smuggling of vegetables such as carrots, cabbage, and ginger becomes more cumbersome for our farmers,” said Cathy Estavillo, secretary general of Amihan Women and spokesperson of Bantay Bigas.

Calls to strengthen the law and support local farmers

Now that Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is the current agriculture secretary, groups continue to challenge his administration to strengthen the law by punishing those behind the agricultural smuggling in the country.

“It is the obligation and responsibility of the current DA under President and agriculture Secretary Marcos Jr. to exercise political will in punishing all those involved in large-scale agricultural smuggling and must work hard to dismantle the indomitable ‘smuggling mafia’ that is colluding with erring government officials,” said Mariano.

The peasant group added that congress should also act upon the flaws of RA 10845, particularly section 3, stating that smuggled products worth P1 million for vegetables and P10 million for rice can only be considered economic sabotage.

They added that smuggling aggravates because of the government’s dependence on importation. Because of this, they called on Marcos Jr’s administration to strengthen local production and give aid and protection to Filipino farmers.

“Agricultural smuggling should be considered as a heinous crime. The government must protect farmers from unscrupulous traders and importers, who by their illegal importation of agricultural products, especially rice, significantly affect the production, availability of supply, and stability of prices, and food security of the country,” said Mariano.