MORE than P200-billion worth of agricultural products were smuggled during the past five years of President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s term, a clear indication that smuggling has flourished and continues to thrive under his “Madaang Matuwid,” a farmers’ association said on Friday.
This is more than double the P94 billion worth of agricultural commodities reportedly smuggled during the previous five years (2004-2009), said farm lobby group Samahang Industriya sa Agrikultura (Sinag).
“Since day one of his administration, we have urged President Aquino to look into this smuggling pestilence; as this is not ‘daang matuwid’ but rather ‘daang madumi,’” Sinag chairperson Rosendo So said in a statement.
“After five years and four Customs chiefs, there is no doubt that this administration has failed the agriculture sector in this regard,” he added.
The Sinag report showed that rice, with a market value of P94 billion, is the single biggest agricultural commodity being smuggled into the country. This was followed by pork at P40 billion, and sugar at close to P25 billion.
Other commodities monitored by Sinag include chicken, garlic, onion and carrots.
According to the group, a market value of P200 billion translates to around P60 billion to P80 billion in lost revenues for the government since these agricultural commodities are supposed to be protected and levied a higher tariff of 30 to 40 percent.
“Sa halip na pangalagaan at tulungan ang lokal na industrya ng agrikultura na tanging ikinabubuhay ng milyon-milyong pamilyang Pilipino, tila wala nang intensyon ang pamahalaang ito na masabat ang smuggling,” added So.
[Instead of protecting and helping the local agricultural industry which is the sole means of livelihood of millions of Filipino families, it seems that this government no longer has any intention of curbing smuggling]
Sinag said the fight against smuggling aims to prevent the further erosion of Filipno farmers’ livelihoods, noting that the smuggling of agricultural products “endangers the survival of the agriculture industry, which is the very fiber of our society.”
The group said that smuggling also exposes the country to unsafe and high-risk agriculture and food products, as smuggled goods do not pass quarantine and food safety inspection.
Meanwhile, So said that newly appointed Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Alfredo Benjamin Caguioa should prove that he is different from his predecessor, senatorial aspirant Leila de Lima, by immediately filing smuggling charges against rice smuggler Davidson Bangayan and other personalities who have long been identified by the Senate Committee of Agriculture.
“There is no time to learning the ropes. Secretary Caguioa has, at his disposal, all the recommendations of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Office for Competition (OFC) of the DOJ, in filing all the appropriate cases against Bangayan,” he said.
The Sinag official stressed that the new DOJ chief should also go after other perpetrators identified by a series of Senate hearings dating back to early 2012 – including alleged onion and garlic cartel leader Leah Cruz, rice traders David and Judilyn Lim,Elizabeth Faustino, Eleanor Rodriguez and Leah Echeveria.