Saboteurs must fall

Smugglers who were honed by years of practice and using their deeply entrenched network in government merely shrug off most of the efforts.

Several laws are in place to halt smuggling, only the implementation of these still leaves a lot to be desired.

Agricultural smuggling is considered an act of economic sabotage under Republic Act 10845 or “An Act Declaring Large-Scale Agricultural Smuggling as Economic Sabotage,” signed in 2016.

The law was meant to protect Filipino farmers but six years after its enactment, smuggled agricultural products are still ravaging the economy.

The law provides heavy penalties for offenders including imprisonment of up to 40 years.

The automation of the systems in the country’s seaports and airports is expected to greatly move forward the campaign against smuggling.

Chief presidential legal counsel Juan Ponce Enrile said the root of the illicit practice is the pervasive corruption in the revenue collecting agency that weakens the bureaucracy.

Also, those businessmen who think of generating maximum profit and who do everything they can to evade tax payments are the culprits.

It is all about enforcement, Enrile said.

A Senate report in June identified 22 individuals involved in large-scale agricultural smuggling, including Bureau of Customs officials, but up to now not one has been charged and the complaints remain in the preliminary investigation stage.

This only proves that there are untouchables who spearhead the extensive agricultural smuggling in the country, a farmers’ group said.

Under the law, large-scale agricultural smuggling happens when “at least P10 million worth of rice, or at least P1 million worth of sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onions, carrots, fish and cruciferous vegetables in either raw, processed, or preserved form is illegally brought into the country.”

Between 2019 and 2022 alone, the Department of Agriculture figures showed P667.5 million worth of smuggled agri-fishery goods, while Customs reported conducting 542 raids that resulted in the seizure of P1.99 billion worth of agricultural products.

BoC records showed that in 2019, P398.47 million worth of products were seized, while in 2020 and 2021, intercepted shipments amounted to P284.62 million and P221.81 million, respectively.

Cooperatives in La Trinidad, Benguet said the influx of smuggled farm goods from China cost their farmers P2.5 million a day, representing 20 to 40 percent of their earnings.

A study made by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture showed that from 1986 to 2009 milled rice was the most smuggled product in the country amounting to P112.50 billion during the span, followed by refined sugar at P25,726,230, beef at P24,612,690 and onions at P14,897,910 million.

Farmers’ groups are now lobbying for legislation that would consider smuggling a heinous crime to deter syndicates.

Smugglers who were honed by years of practice and using their deeply entrenched network in government merely shrug off most of the efforts from which they suffer at most a temporary loss of business.

Their goal now along with their cohorts in government is to stop the digitalization process at the Bureau of Customs and the Philippine Ports Authority, which President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos has made a priority.

Digitalization reduces human contact and thus makes it harder for nefarious transactions to be conducted.

Smuggling can be defeated through the exercise of political will in pursuing the best solution to end it.

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