P4.8M smuggled veggies in Tondo just the tip of the iceberg
Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) demanded that the Bureau of Customs (BOC) should go after large-scale vegetable smugglers and not just small retailers. “Stalls just distribute. The ones who must be urgently caught and penalized are those who facilitate the entry of huge volumes of smuggled vegetables. The government should inspect warehouses, not just market stalls,” KMP Chairman Emeritus and Anakpawis President Rafael Mariano says.
The peasant leader insisted that the P4.8 million-worth of smuggled carrots, garlic, and other agricultural products seized by the BOC in Tondo last September 30 was just “the tip of a gigantic iceberg.” “If three lowly stalls can sell such huge amounts of smuggled veggies, what more can warehouses sell?” Mariano asked.
A 2014 SEARCA study, the latest of its kind, estimated that the value of smuggled agricultural goods in the Philippines reached an average of USD 52 billion annually from 1986 to 2009.
“The buck should not stop with these stalls. Their suppliers should be aggressively hunted down and penalized as economic saboteurs,” the former Agrarian Reform Secretary demanded.
Under Republic Act 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016, smuggling is considered large-scale or “economic sabotage” when the smuggled goods reach at least P1 million in value for most agricultural products and P10 million for rice.
KMP also pointed out that increasing smuggling is the direct consequence of increasing importation. “Smuggling flows through the same processes and the same vessels as legal importation. Every time agricultural trade is further liberalized, technical smuggling – misdeclaration, undervaluation, and misclassification — also becomes easier. Agriculture Secretary William Dar’s persistent ‘import, import, import’ direction is also accountable.”
Similarly, the SEARCA study noted that smuggling increased considerably and more quickly after 1995, the year the Philippines joined the World Trade Organization which pushed for “free trade.” It also estimated that rice smuggling in the country was at its highest in 2008 after then-President Gloria Arroyo lifted rice importation quotas.
“A legislative inquiry is the least we can do to expose the extent of our agricultural smuggling problem today, especially after the enactment and implementation of the Rice Liberalization Law,” Mariano added.
KMP however noted that seizing smuggled vegetables was a welcome development as it removed potential health hazards from the market. #