By Alyssa Nicole O. Tan
THE GOVERNMENT needs to lower the threshold for violations that constitute economic sabotage in order to more effectively deter the smuggling of agricultural produce, a party-list organization said.
“Reducing the (volume threshold) of smuggled agriculture products that constitute economic sabotage is one concrete remedy to address smuggling,” according to Anakpawis Party-list National President Ariel B. Casilao in a text message to BusinessWorld.
Republic Act 10845, which classifies large-scale smuggling of agricultural products as economic sabotage, allows no bail for the smuggling of produce in its their raw state as well as the smuggling of items that have undergone simple processing or preservation. The no-bail rule applies to shipments valued at P1 million for most farm items. For rice the threshold is P10 million.
“The threshold is too high,” Anakpawis Representative Rafael V. Mariano, the first Agrarian Reform Secretary of the Duterte administration, told BusinessWorld by phone.
He also called for penalties on any shipper that fails to show the appropriate documentation.
Mr. Casilao proposed that instead of P1 million worth of agricultural products, the threshold should be lowered to P100,000.
Instead of just possession, as stated in the law, warehousing or stockpiling of smuggled agricultural products should also be considered grounds for economic sabotage, he added.
“But more importantly, enforcing is a separate field to address in order to be effective in combating smuggling,” said the Anakpawis president, calling out the Department of Agriculture (DA) for failing to impose “stringent measures against big-time smugglers.”
The group cited the Senate’s investigation, which found that more than 20 major smuggling operations are currently active, allegedly backed by high-ranking government officials and politicians.
The DA, Mr. Mariano said, should be held accountable for “criminal neglect” in allegedly failing to curb the smuggling of agricultural products.
“Highland vegetable farmers are on the losing end courtesy of the entry of cheap smuggled vegetables from China into the wholesale local markets. These cheap and unsafe vegetables are both detrimental to our growers and consumers,” he said in an earlier statement.
Both smuggled and legally imported vegetables, he added, lower farmgate prices of domestic vegetables. For instance, carrots and cabbages being sold in Metro Manila at P85 and P115 per kilo have to compete with imports sold at P70 and P60 per kilo, respectively.
“When retail prices are depressed, so is the farmgate. Consequently, farmers are forced to dispose (of) their produce due to lack of post-harvest facilities that can store their products for long,” Mr. Mariano said. “Compared to imports, domestic vegetables have a limited and shorter shelf life.”
“The long shelf life of imported and smuggled carrots indicate that these have been treated with preservatives like formalin which can jeopardize the health of consumers,” he added.
Mr. Mariano said the proposed measure will require increased inter-agency cooperation.
The party-list also called for the government to withdraw from the Agreement on Agriculture under the World Trade Organization, as well as for Congress to repeal laws that allow full liberalization of the sector, including the Rice Tariffication Law and the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act.