Two Senate committees sought yesterday the declaration of certain acts of agricultural smuggling as economic sabotage that would carry stiffer penalties.
The move was made after the Senate Agriculture and Food Committee chaired by Sen. Cynthia Villar, and the Senate Economic Affairs Committee chaired by Sen. Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito started yesterday a series of public hearings on the bills they had filed on the issue.
The resource speakers from the agricultural sector, the Bureau of Customs, and the Federation of Philippine Industries headed by Jesus Arranza threw their support behind the passage of the two bills.
“Now that ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) integration has begun, trade filters must be created to avoid our agriculture sector from becoming a casualty of trade liberalization,” Villar explained.
“We don’t want smugglers to get away with a mere slap on the wrist. Smuggling is a crime that not only affects the consumers, it also threatens the livelihood of farmers and fisherfolk,” Villar said.
The bill mandates that there should be no bail granted to those accused of economic sabotage so that smugglers could not buy their way out of the justice system, she explained.
While the Villar bill states that a questionable shipment is considered economic sabotage if the value is P5 million, the sugar industry wants that any smuggled shipment worth P1 or more should already be considered economic sabotage.
Villar said the threshold on the amount of smuggled shipments and other issues discussed yesterday would go through the technical working group (TWG) process of law-making.
She expected the bill to be debated on the Senate session hall in July after Congress has used up its six-week sine die adjournment.
Villar heard testimonies that smuggling cases went down during the incumbency of former Customs Commissioner John Philip Sevilla.
She said that while smuggling cases went down in the Metropolitan Manila area, smuggling in the South is increasing.
She pointed out that in Zamboanga alone, there are 90 small ports where smuggled goods are brought in by small bancas.
“Rampant smuggling has been a lingering issue in the Philippines, it is costing the government billions of pesos in unpaid taxes and duties and also killing local producers. More so, approximately two thirds of the country’s population is dependent on agricultural industry such that any event of smuggling is tantamount to stealing our people’s livelihood,” Ejercito said.
Villar cited a Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (Searca), from 1986 to 2008, in terms of volume in metric tons, the top five agricultural products smuggled into the country are milled rice, refined sugar, beef meat, dry onion, and pork, in that order.
Searca, according to Villar, said farm products smuggling in the mid-1980s was valued at $6 billion a year, increasing every year to reach at least $10 billion in 2008.
“There is a need for a relevant legislation to stop agriculture products smuggling in the country. A law which shall provide safeguards and indirectly increase income opportunities to local producers which shall help alleviate poverty among farmers and agricultural households in the country,” she added.