Blue Ribbon probe into 'rampant, unabated' agricultural smuggling sought
Senate Minority Leader Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III is seeking a Senate blue ribbon committee investigation into the "rampant and unabated" agricultural smuggling in the country.
Pimentel filed proposed Senate Resolution 477 where he emphasized the agricultural smuggling's negative impact to local farmers and fisherfolk; health risks to Filipino consumers; and effect on the government's much-needed revenues.
The Senate inquiry seeks to identify accountability and introduce changes to the existing anti-smuggling laws and processes, Pimentel said.
"The issue of smuggling has been a decade-long problem that has continued to be a burden in the country's agricultural market. Unfortunately, up until now, smuggling persists, if not worse than before," he said.
"The government has not successfully eradicated or even countered smuggling, which has greatly affected our farmers and the consumers as well with the soaring prices of food commodities," he added.
The Senate minority leader recalled that the Senate had convened the Committee of the Whole to discuss agricultural smuggling in September 2021.
It was found during the investigation that the amount of technically smuggled agri-fishery commodities for the years 2019 to 2022 is estimated at P667.5 million, Pimentel mentioned in his resolution.
At that time, the senator said 31 smuggling cases were pending with the total amount of smuggled goods estimated at over P848 million.
The committee likewise revealed a list of 22 "persons of interest" involved in large-scale agricultural smuggling, Pimentel said "until now no smuggler has been sent to jail and agricultural smuggling remains rampant in the country."
He lamented that Republic Act 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act was effective since June 2016. However, the problem of smuggled agricultural products is still hurting the local food producers.
This year, Pimentel said, there was at least P19 million worth of illegal sugar discovered at the Manila International Container Port and an estimated P20 million worth of red onions reportedly seized in the Port of Zamboanga.
"None other than President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. admits that smuggling is 'absolutely rampant' and the systems designed to address it are 'ineffective.' He even called for the private sector to help win the fight against rampant smuggling in the country," Pimentel noted.
In response, the senator said various agricultural stakeholders have offered to help the government stop the chronic smuggling of food products that has depressed local production and kept food prices high.
"To make matters worse, the [Department of Agriculture] has warmed consumers against patronizing white onions smuggled into the country. According to DA, these smuggled agricultural products do not comply with sanitary measures. In fact, some 100,000 kilos of smuggled onions recently intercepted at the [P]ort of [M]anila contained chemical residue and traces of E.coli," he said.
"All these are indicative that acts of malfeasance, misfeasance and nonfeasance are still prevalent within concerned government agencies within concerned government agencies such as the Department of Agricultural and Bureau of Customs, causing agricultural smuggling to thrive," Pimentel added.—AOL, GMA Integrated News