AS SMUGGLED vegetables from China continue to flood the Philippine market, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan calls for an inquiry into their proliferation that dangerously exposes consumers and farmers to unchecked plant diseases.
“Ang mga smuggled na pagkain, pwedeng merong peste o nagtatago ng iba’t ibang sakit. Seryosong banta sa ating kalusugan, at sa produksyon at seguridad ng pagkain ng buong bansa ang ma-expose sa ganitong mga produkto. Halimbawa na lang na smuggled na baboy mula sa China ang dahilan sa nakaraang outbreak ng African Swine Fever sa bansa (Smuggled agricultural produce may contain invasive pests and host various diseases. The exposure of other food products to these goods poses a serious threat to the health of our people, the productivity of the agriculture sector, and our country’s food security. As an example, smuggled pork from China was the culprit behind the recent outbreak of African Swine Fever in the country),” he said in Proposed Senate Resolution 922.
Citing Republic Act 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016, Pangilinan calls on the government to perform its duty to protect the agriculture sector, the local farmers, and the public from the manipulative schemes of economic saboteurs.
“Nakakabahala ito at kailangan ma-aksyunan agad. Mula PPEs, testing kits at face shields hanggang mga gulay, bakit ba pinapaburan ang mga imported at hindi unahin ang sariling atin? (This is alarming and needs immediate action. From PPEs, testing kits, and face shields to even vegetables, why are the imported favored and why are our own not prioritized),” asked Pangilinan.
According to the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the agriculture sector suffered the biggest job losses. Of the 3.4 million Filipinos who lost their jobs in June this year, about 1.7 million were farmers and fisherfolk.
“Kayod-kalabaw na ang ating mga magsasaka pero lumiit pa lalo ang kita dahil sa pandemya. Sinubok na ng rice tariffication, African swine fever at mga bagyo. Smuggled na gulay naman ngayon. Hindi na sila makahinga at makabangon (Our farmers work hard but their income fell further due to the pandemic. They were tested by the rice tariffication, African swine fever, and typhoons. Now it’s smuggled vegetables. Our farmers can barely breathe and stand up),” Pangilinan said.
Augusta Balanoy of the Highland Vegetable Multipurpose Cooperative said that a large volume of carrots was spotted in key markets in the country. She said their counterparts in Cebu had alerted them that four container vans filled with carrots from China have been distributed in their markets on a weekly basis.
In its investigation, Balanoy’s group found that small warehouses near Divisoria in Manila have been releasing imported vegetables to Metro Manila markets whenever prices of Benguet vegetables rise.
Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary William Dar said in a Zoom meeting that the smuggled carrots and cabbage from China had entered the market via Subic Port.
The Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) said it did not issue import permits for these produce as the shipments have been misdeclared as “other items.”
Dar said BPI issues import permits only for frozen mixed vegetables and processed vegetables “intended for embassies and hotels.”
The flood of cheap, smuggled carrots has resulted in drastic drops in orders from local farmers, causing further distress in the sector in the middle of the pandemic.
Pangilinan, who was former food security secretary, noted that as no import permit or sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances were issued, the smuggled vegetables may pose health hazards to consumers. He said they might contain uncertain levels of pesticide and formalin that may be harmful when consumed.
“Kalahati lang daw ang presyo ng imported carrots ang local carrots. Mura nga pero baka nakakalason naman (I was told that the average price of imported carrots is at half the selling price of local produce. Cheap but potentially poisonous),” he said.
“Dapang-dapa na nga ang mga nagpapakain sa atin, meron pang ganitong madayang laban (Our food producers who have barely survived are once again pummeled by this form of unfair competition),” he added.
Pangilinan is also the author of Republic Act 11321 or the Sagip Saka Law, which aims to put healthy food on every Filipino family’s dining table by making agriculture more productive and profitable for Filipino farmers and fisherfolk.
“Pag puro imported, bumababa ang kita ng sarili nating mga magsasaka. At pag di na sila nagtanim dahil lugi naman, tataas ang presyo ng pagkain. Nakadepende na ang pagkain natin sa ibang bansa (High importation lowers our own farmers’ incomes. When these losses force them to another job, food prices will go up. We will become dependent on other countries for food),” he said.
“Suportahan natin ang ating mga local producers, bumili tayo sa kanila, kapag sila ay kumita gaganahan sila magtanim at dadami ang supply ng pagkain. Pag nangyari ito ay magiging mura ang pagkain. Pero ang unang hakbang nito ay suportahan sila (Let us support our local producers. Buy from them. And when they are earning, they will be more motivated to plant more. And with more harvests, supply of food will increase. And when this happens, food will become more affordable. But the first step is to support them),” he added.