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Agri-Smuggling Court to be a Tax Appeals Court division –Tolentino

Rather than making it equivalent to a regional trial court, the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, with the Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform, was looking into making the proposed special Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Court a division of the  Court of Tax Appeals.

“Mukhang may consensus kanina na yung bill… that in the Court of Tax Appeals, a division should be created to address smuggling. Hindi na RTC level. Diretso na sa Court of Tax Appeals,” Senator Francis Tolentino said on Tuesday.

(There is a consensus that the bill would create a Court of Tax Appeals division that would address agricultural smuggling. It won't be at the RTC level. Cases go directly to the Court of Tax Appeals.)

Tolentino added that cases resolved by the special court would be appealable before the Supreme Court.

With just a few cases filed against agricultural smugglers, Tolentino said one division in the CTA could accommodate the lawsuits.

“‘Yung sa proposed bill, apat [ang special courts]. Sa ngayon, dahil kakaunti pa naman ang naka-file pwede nang isang division ng Court of Tax Appeals,” he said.

Tolentino said the prosecution of cases should be “solely” given to the Department of Justice as they learned during hearings on the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Courts bill that the Bureau of Customs had too much leeway on the build up of cases.

In a statement, the BOC said it "supports the establishment of an Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Court."

"We believe that the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Court will expedite the resolution of criminal cases involving agricultural products and will ultimately curb smuggling activities," it said. 

"The BOC remains committed to cooperating with the Legislative Department, which is currently deliberating on the bill creating the said court." 

In March, Senator Cynthia Villar filed Senate Bill 1963, which seeks to create special courts that would try smuggling, hoarding, profiteering, and agricultural product cartel cases.

The bill stemmed from a Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food, and Agrarian Reform investigation into the soaring prices of onions in the latter part of 2022.

Apart from creating a special court on anti-agricultural smuggling, the Senate panel also proposed the creation of a task force that would serve and protect the entire agricultural sector and not only the onion industry.

The task force would be directly under the control and supervision of the Office of the President.

A special team of prosecutors from the Department of Justice would be assigned to assist the task force in the expeditious prosecution of criminal and other cases involving economic sabotage. — with Ted Cordero/DVM/VBL, GMA Integrated News