May 30, 2011
Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan, Chair of the Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture and the Co-Chair of the Congressional Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization (COCAFM), is calling on the Department of Finance to create an inter-agency task force to address smuggling and help increase the incomes of local farmers while assuring food security.
Pangilinan, who co-convened the Agriculture and Fisheries 2025 Summit in February this year along with the Department of Agriculture, COCAFM, and private sector representatives, points out that smuggling is one of the top concerns of both farmers and agri-businessmen around the country. Reports show that at least P100 billion of potential government revenues are lost with the continuous entry of smuggled goods and agricultural products, such as onions, rice, garlic, carrots, poultry, pork, and sugar.
According to field data, a conservative average of ten 14-footer container vans, with around 350,000 kilos of smuggled onions, enter the Cagayan de Oro and Davao ports per week.
Pangilinan says that the task force should be the vehicle that will “mobilize the stakeholders and government in sharing information on smuggling activities and alerting the Bureau of Customs.”
“This task force will also look into marshalling legal support for case buildup, evidence gathering, and the filing of cases against erring customs officials,” Pangilinan adds.
Pangilinan warns about the long-term, devastating effects of smuggling on the livelihood of farmers if steps aren’t taken to curb it.
“Kapag hindi natin nasolusyonan ang iligal na pag-aangkat ng mga produktong agrikultural sa bansa, hindi lang ang gobyerno ang tatamaan,” Pangilinan said. “Mas tatamaan ang magsasakang nagbabanat ng buto para pakainin ang sambayanan. Nawawalan sila ng kita at lumiliit ang kakayahan nilang makapagbigay ng sapat na pagkain para sa taumbayan.”
Pangilinan also linked the Aquino administration campaign slogan, “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” to the current situation of smuggling in agriculture.
“Kung walang iligal na pag-aangkat, magsasaka’y aangat at lahat kakain nang sapat,” he coined.
The veteran lawmaker also cited an ongoing study by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR) and the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organization-Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEAMEO SEARCA) that is investigating the effects and the extent of agricultural smuggling in the country.
During the first Steering Committee Meeting of the DA-SEAMEO SEARCA project, Ms. Ma. Rosario V. Acosta, Customs Operations Officer of the Bureau of Customs, was quoted as saying that aside from the Bureau of Customs—which falls under the Department of Finance—other agencies are mandated to monitor and help curb illegal trade activities. Senator Pangilinan therefore reiterated the urgency of convening a multi-agency, multi-sectoral body to address the escalating situation.
“Smuggling is an urgent problem that the Bureau of Customs cannot solve on its own. We need the support of other government agencies and especially the private sector to ensure that our local producers are protected against the illegal entry of foreign commodities. We need to take care of our people, especially those who tirelessly work to put food on our tables,” Pangilinan urged.
“Among others, we should build a united front against smuggling. Across sub-sectors—be it vegetables or meat, or rice, corn, or sugar. Smuggling hurts our farmers and the local industry. It must be met with forceful intervention. We should unleash People Power and defeat ‘smuggling power.’
The senator reiterated: “We must send the signal to the smugglers that we will not simply watch and stand idly by as they wreak havoc on an industry we consider vital for national progress.”