Vice-presidential candidate Kiko Pangilinan attends the Senate hearing on vegetable smuggling via Zoom from Samar. PHOTOS COURTESY OF TEAM KIKO PANGILINAN
VICE-PRESIDENTIAL candidate Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan on Monday did not mince his words and said “untouchables” are behind the continuous large-scale food smuggling in the country, affecting the livelihood of local farmers particularly those in Benguet.
At the continuation of the investigation by the Senate Committee of the Whole on the issue, Pangilinan said that the government should go after these untouchables as they are lining up their pockets at the expense and safety of the Filipino people.
“Mayroong untouchables. May mga untouchables. Malakas ang kapit na ayaw nilang habulin. Iyan ang basa ko diyan,” Pangilinan said after representatives from the Bureau of Customs fail to answer questions pertaining to the smuggling issue.
“Masyado sigurong malapit sa mga naka-upo kaya ganyan ang sitwasyon,” he added.
As former food security secretary, Pangilinan is no stranger to the issue smuggling of agricultural products as he also faced the same dilemma.
But according to Pangilinan, the government back then was hellbent in its resolve to address the rampant smuggling in the country as a way to protect the livelihood of local farmers.
“At least noong panahon na iyon, walang untouchable dahil siniguro natin na nasampahan sila ng kaso at sinuspinde natin iyong mga ilang kasabwat [sa gobyerno],” Pangilinan said.
“Pero dito kung ganyang walang kilos at lantaran, yes compromised, may nako-compromiso sa BOC, sa DA, at may mga untouchables, ayaw nilang hulihin,” he added.
Earlier in the hearing, Agot Balanoy of the League of Associations of La Trinidad Vegetable told the senators that smuggling has destroyed the livelihood of farmers and everyone involved in the food industry eco-system.
Balanoy said that despite reporting to the Department of Agriculture the smuggling incidents as early as July last year, the agency did not bat an eye, and instead shrugged off the smuggling issue.
“We started complaining last year of July and August. But the Department of Agriculture denied that there is smuggling, or that there are smuggled vegetables coming from China entering our markets,” she said.
Balanoy said that local sellers prefer buying the smuggled vegetables as these are cheaper and with longer life span compared to the locally produced vegetables.
This resulted in 40% decrease in the regular daily order of carrots for Benguet farmers, amounting to at least P2.5 million pesos loss in revenue daily.
It was pointed out that these imports last longer because cancer-causing formaldehyde was used to preserve the products.
Balanoy also slammed the slow-paced action of their local officials, including ACT-CIS Representative Eric Yap, in addressing the issue, saying they are of no help at all.
According to Balanoy, Yap said in a press release that he had filed a resolution in Congress calling for the investigation of the smuggling issue. But Balanoy is skeptical about the resolution, saying Yap was identified as a smuggler in a Manila Times article and a privilege speech of Senator Panfilo Lacson.
Yap, who was born in Davao City, owes his political power and influence to his closeness to presidential son and Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte.
Prior to joining politics, Yap and his family made money as customs brokers.
Among other controversial issues, Yap has voted against granting franchise to ABS-CBN.