The Senate in Tuesday, Dec. 7, formed itself into a committee of the whole to ‘’check the efficacy, or lack of it, of the Bureau of Customs’ operations against smuggling of agricultural products.’’
In a privileged speech during plenary session on Tuesday, Dec. 7, Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said that ‘’as legislators, we strive to pass laws to modernize the agricultural sector in the hopes of uplifting the lives of our farmers.’’
‘’But all these efforts are futile if smuggling and corruption continue to reign, killing and destroying our local agriculture industry and robbing our farmers a decent living,’’ he said.
The Senate then formed itself into a Committee of the Whole to investigate the operations of the Bureau of Customs at the country’s ports.
Sotto cited the provisions of the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016 (Republic Act 10845) which categorized as economic sabotage the large-scale smuggling of agricultural products amounting to less than P1 million, or a minimum of P10 million in the case of rice.
“This is a call for this august body to exercise its oversight function and look into these matters. Hindi lang pandemya ang pinaka mabigat na kalaban ngayon kung hindi korupsyon (It is not only COVID-19 pandemic that we are fighting but corruption too). Some have said that ‘the biggest disease is corruption.’ Ito ang tuluy-tuloy na nagpapahirap sa ating lahat (This makes our lives diifficult),” Sotto said.
Sotto said customs personnel proven to be conniving with smugglers should be made accountable under the law and sentenced to a lifetime in jail and ordered to pay a fine twice the fair value of their smuggled agricultural product and the aggregate taxes, duties and other charges avoided by the smuggler.
“Corrupt practices committed by certain individuals have far-reaching consequences that affect our farmers, business sectors and ultimately the Filipino consumers… These importations significantly impact production, stock availability and stability of prices,” he said.
Sotto said his office has been monitoring press releases issued by the BOC regarding its anti-smuggling operations from May 2021 to November 18, 2021.
“We documented 25 operations amounting to approximately P1 billion,” he said, adding that the smuggled frozen meats, high value agricultural food, garlic, onions, sugar, frozen mackerel and tuna, carrots, ginger and other fruit and vegetable products were declared as pastry ingredients, glucose syrups, mantaou buns, or were mis-declared in terms of their true weight or quantity beyond the allowable importation limits as set forth by law.
“If we are to base the efficacy of our fight against smuggling on the press releases of the Bureau of Customs, it seems like we are on top of the issue. But the big problem is, mukhang hanggang PR lang talaga ang pagsugpo sa agricultural products smuggling (It seems that the fight against smuggling of agriculture products is done through press releases),” Sotto said.
“It seems like there are several layers of corruption here. Kung hindi nakalusot at nahuli (if it is able to escape but is arrested), cases may not be filed against the smuggler or if talagang kakasuhan (cases are to be filed) for PR (purposes), lesser offense (to be filed) naman ang ikakaso! Kawawang mga farmers, kawawang mga Pilipinong mamimili (Pity the farmers, pity the Filipino consumers),’’ he added.
He also said: “No matter how we try to elevate the state of our agricultural sector to enable them to produce enough and provide for the whole nation, we will never achieve our agricultural independence because some scrupulous individuals are in cahoots with the smugglers. Port congestion, red tape, kotong, and under the table arrangements are just some issues in the Bureau of Customs that are burdening the businesses and weakens the business climate in our country.”
“Kawawa ang ating mga magsasaka (Pity our farmers). Nagpapakakuba sila sa paghahanap-buhay, at ito ang ginagawa sa kanila ng mga magnanakaw sa Bureau of Customs (They break their backs but their efforts are undone by thieves at the Customs Bureau). We need to stop these dastardly acts. Mahalagang protektahan natin ang interes ng ating mga magsasaka, at siguruhing hindi sila liyamado sa laban kontra katiwalian (We must protect the interests of our farmers and ensure that they are protected against corruption),’’ Sotto said.