The spike in smuggling incidents every time an election year approaches is a sure-fire clue that politicians have started to load up on campaign funds. That these rampant smuggling activities remain unstoppable, with little or no forceful action from the Aquino administration, confirms the suspicion of many Filipinos that this fund-raising campaign has the blessing of – or worse, is being directed from – the highest corridors of power.
This view is also shared by not a few people in the business community.
Sugar industry leaders, for one, say smuggling is being used for campaign funding, especially with the huge increase in seizures of contraband sugar. According to Sugar Anti-Smuggling Organization (Saso) of the Sugar Alliance of the Philippines (SAP), at least P812 million in smuggled sugar was seized from 2010-2015. But in the first quarter of this year alone, seizures of illegally imported sugar have already reached at least P287 million.
Industry monitors also note that the port of entry for the smuggled sugar has shifted from Manila to ports in Mindanao. Smugglers using the Zamboanga port are reportedly supplying the needs of Cagayan de Oro, Iligan and Davao.
Just last month, some 7,000 sacks of undocumented sugar, with an estimated value of P30 million, were seized from a Thai vessel. The smuggled sugar, shipped to the Philippines through Malaysia, carried bags with the markings of a Negros Occidental-based sugar mill indicating that the smugglers were bold enough to pass off the smuggled sugar as locally produced. And last Easter Sunday, another cargo vessel loaded with 1,500 sacks of sugar, said to have been smuggled from Malaysia, was seized at the Zamboanga port.
But it’s not only the sugar industry that’s in an uproar over the rampant smuggling this election year.
The country’s pig farmers are also up in arms over the smuggling of pork meat into the country. In an open letter to PNoy, the Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines (PPFP) and other livestock groups said that the inventory in backyard farms shrank by 17 percent to 7.95 million heads in 2015 from 9.54 million heads in 2010, when PNoy assumed office.
By comparing import values from the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database (UN Comtrade) as against the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and Department of Agriculture (DA)’s import data, it is estimated that some 202 million kilos (445.334 million pounds) of pork were smuggled outright, or through false declaration, into the country from 2010 to mid-2015. This amounts to around P9 billion (US$194 million) in lost tax revenues.
The group also says that some 80,000 backyard pig farmers have lost their livelihood in the six years of PNoy’s presidency. Even once thriving commercial pig farms are now struggling to survive.
We have seen its effects first-hand. Field reports given by our associates in the animal feed industry showed a 25-percent decline in sales these past few months, which they attribute to a big decline in livestock inventory of hog farmers. Pork producers claim business is no longer profitable due to unfair competition from cheap smuggled pork that caused a steep drop in pork prices to as low as P80 per kilo in some areas of the country. It has gotten so bad that hog farmers have threatened to stage a five-day “pork holiday” if the smuggling issue is not addressed by the Aquino government.
The funny thing is that there is very little pushback coming from Malacañang on the smuggling epidemic in our ports. The Palace has not fired let alone castigated current BOC chief Alberto Lina for failing to plug this massive tax leakage from smuggling. And aside from the recent motherhood statements from the Palace that “steps are now being taken to curb smuggling of pork,” PNoy has not adopted measures to truly stem the flow of foreign contraband.
This “daang matuwid” government can easily put the brakes on smuggling if it really wants to. We recall that around four years ago, an important agreement was already reached between agriculture industry stakeholders and some government agencies that the Bureau of Customs (BOC) would give the Department of Agriculture (DA) access to the BOC’s Inward Foreign Manifests (IFM) at least two days before a vessel’s arrival so that the DA could reconcile the IFM with its list of import permits.
The IFM contains details of the imported products, originating country, the name of the cargo ship and its arrival date. Logically, meat importations without the corresponding permits are deemed smuggled and are subject to immediate confiscation.
But the plan never really got off the ground allegedly due to the interference of some top administration officials. Not surprisingly, PNoy still won’t wield his immense power to force the BOC and DA to work together to combat smuggling.
To make matters worse, this state-sanctioned smuggling is impacting the sector that is the country’s second-biggest employer. Workers in the agricultural sector, including those in the livestock and sugar industry, make up 28 percent of total number of employed Filipinos as of July 2015. Yet, the agriculture sector is on a decline, growing only 1.9 percent in 2014, the slowest growth among the two other major economic sectors: services and industry.
With elections just around the corner, political insiders know who stands to benefit the most from this pre-election smuggling plague. And it definitely isn’t the opposition.