March 30, 2022
MANILA, Philippines — It’s now up to Malacañang to stop the rampant smuggling of agricultural products by cracking the whip on the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the Department of Agriculture (DA), whose personnel are in cahoots with one another in allowing the importation of vegetables at the expense of the local farming industry, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Monday.
The BOC and the DA must “shape up” or face the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte, Sotto said, adding that these agencies are to blame for opening the doors of agricultural smuggling in the country.
“It should be the Office of the President no less; it should set the foot down on this issue of smuggling in the [BOC] and [the DA], most especially the door opened by importation. By allowing importation, it had opened the floodgates of smuggling,” he said.
Sotto made the statement when asked what solutions the Senate were eyeing to help put a stop to the problem of imported vegetables flooding the local market, at the end of the committee-of-the-whole hearing on Monday.
“It should be up to (Malacañang). The moment President Duterte or the executive department fumes, it must not only end up with heads rolling but [the BOC and the DA] should shape up,” he said.
He expressed dismay why an interagency task force consisting of the DA, the BOC, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the Department of Trade and Industry have supposedly been trading blame for the failure to stop the smuggling of agricultural products.
“Why do they keep on pointing fingers at one another? Why can’t they just seize shipments suspected to be contrabands? Why are we letting them run loose?” he added.
But Sotto clarified on Tuesday that he has yet to receive the list promised to be given by Agriculture Assistant Secretary Federico Laciste Jr. after he was pressed to disclose the names of high-ranking politicians who have supposedly been exerting pressure on him not to press charges on contrabands their operatives had seized.
“There are former as well as incumbent [government officials], according to a provincial board member of Benguet, and we are told there were names that came out,” he said.
House ways and means panel committee chair and Albay Rep. Joey Salceda said his panel, which reviews import processes, had been working with the BOC and the DA to fight agricultural smuggling as early as February 2021.
In a statement on Tuesday, the economist-turned-lawmaker revealed his panel’s three-point “moving forward” plan to curb the illegal entry of agricultural products as the Senate committee of the whole resumed its probe on agricultural smuggling.
“First, we will hold another updates hearing with the BOC, the DA, and other agencies to keep abreast of developments on our requests. Second, I will constitute a technical working group on possible recommendations that we can turn over to the next administration, particularly on amendments to the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act,” Salceda said.
“Third, we will finalize a joint memorandum circular between the agencies to strengthen antiagricultural smuggling measures,” he said.