The Tugon Kabuhayan group advocating for food security and livelihoods has made recommendations to the government to stop the “chronic” smuggling of food products that has affected local producers and kept food prices high.
In a briefing, John Santos of the Fresh Fish Dealers Association of the Philippines said private sector stakeholders who are affected by smuggling should be involved in enforcing anti-smuggling laws.
“We must involve, as stakeholders, law enforcement for its consistency. Because without monitors, smugglers will return. We face this problem every day. Let’s get our stakeholders involved.” Santos said in Filipino.
The head of the Togon Kaboyan meeting, Assis Perez, revealed that the Ministry of Agriculture (DA) is set to file several cases against suspected smugglers this week. “The problem now is that the group that goes after smuggling is ad hoc, unstaffed. We are in favor of institutionalizing the inspection and enforcement group headed by Assistant Secretary James Layog in the DA,” said the former National Director of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources. .
Perez said the continued smuggling of onions, rice, corn, sugar, carrots, fish and pork is having an enormous impact not only on farmers and fishermen but on Philippine food security. “The continued entry of these undocumented products into our country threatens our economy in terms of loss of revenue and non-taxable goods,” he said.
As of December 2022, the Customs Bureau (BoC) estimates that it has seized in excess of P1.2 billion in agricultural products seized and detected smuggled into the country over the past year.
During the briefing, former Agriculture Secretary Leonardo Montemayor said chronic smuggling of food products also threatens Filipino consumers, noting that animal and plant diseases that plague the country such as African swine fever and coccolisap (coconut shell bug) are most likely due to unregulated importation of food products.
“Aside from affecting the yields and production of local farmers and fishermen, human health and plant and animal safety are also affected by illegal imports,” Montemayor said.
In the case of rice smuggling, Montemayor estimates that between 2019, when the Rice Tariff Act was passed, and 2022, the government lost an additional 8 billion pesos in tariffs due to smuggling.
“If the reference price in the international market for a metric ton is $500 and the import declaration is $400, that alone should be a red flag, and the bond should start immediately. Unless and until the exporter can explain satisfactorily, don’t Import release. It is difficult to track the shipment once it leaves the port.”
He added, “With special attention to digitization and electronic technology, we can help deter and intercept smuggling. In terms of prosecution, whoever is behind the intercepted products must be prosecuted.”
For his part, Elias Jose Insiong of the United Broiler Breeders Association (UBRA) said the Agriculture and Fisheries Modernization Act of 1997, especially its data and quarantine provisions, should be implemented. He said a system should be put in place to enforce the law.
“The president (Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos Jr.) recently stressed the need to stop smuggling. He insisted that there is no system in place to address this issue. The national information network, together with the inspection and quarantine system, can be used to intercept and combat smuggling and fair trade.”
He called for information transparency. “There should be a monthly comparison of the import data. The exports recorded for the countries of origin should be compared with the records from the customs office, and the discrepancy between the volume recorded and the volume actually arriving within the Philippines should be considered,” Inciong explained.
“So far there is no sense of urgency to address this problem. It will fail because we do not have a system in place,” he added.