Recent events related to the farmers’ long fight against smuggling have left them frustrated and furious because of government inaction and indifference. A recent event may help us understand why.
Last Dec. 7, 2012, the Benguet Farmers Cooperative, an Alyansa Agrikultura member, initiated an anti-smuggling action against smuggled Chinese carrots.
These carrots do not have import permits because they lack the required phytosanitary clearance.
This means that they can harm consumer health, as well as introduce foreign pests into the Philippines for which we do not have the proper antidotes.
In addition, these carrots came in at very low prices, which forced domestic carrot prices down to unprofitable levels.
An Alyansa leader and the DA’s Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Quarantine Head bought smuggled carrots from a Divisoria retail outlet and personally submitted them to Bureau of Customs Deputy Commissioner Danilo Lim. Despite their request that the BOC conduct the anti-smuggling raid immediately, other BOC personnel insisted on visiting the smuggling site before the raid to verify the complaint. True enough, after the BOC visit, the smuggled carrots, which had been stacked in piles five feet high, disappeared. The feared information leak that the farmer leader warned about had occurred.
Nevertheless, since proof of the smuggled carrots had already been obtained, Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Francis Pangilinan and BPI Director Clarito Baron (with the full support of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala) went to the Divisoria smuggling site and explained this to the media. They showed that the smuggled Chinese carrots were easy to detect because they were at least 30 percent larger than the domestic carrots. Because of the nationwide coverage, these carrots soon disappeared from the retail outlets.
The reason is simple. Retail outlets did not want to be caught and penalized for selling smuggled carrots. Because of this, the carrot farm-gate price of P15 per kilo, which had decreased to P5 per kilo because of smuggling, bounced back to its original level. That is the good news.
The bad news is that the retail outlet that was caught selling smuggled carrots was never charged.
After a week, smuggled carrots once again flooded the retail outlets at very low prices. Carrot farm-gate prices once again decreased to P5 per kilo, way below the P12 break-even price. To this day, no retail outlet has been charged for selling easily identifiable smuggled carrots. Cordillera farmers continue to suffer from government indifference.
This is nothing new. As early as three years ago, the Alyansa Agrikultura filed a case against appropriate Bureau of Customs officials who refused to charge importers who brought in more than 40 containers of smuggled onions. This case is still pending.
Meanwhile, many smugglers continue to bring in products with no import permits. They believe that those participating in the smuggling chain are often not charged, even if they are caught with clear evidence.
We recommend that President Aquino pay as much attention to smuggling as jueteng. Why the President himself? Because smuggling kills. So far, not much has been done.
In addition, three Cabinet secretaries have to be involved in this effort: the Finance Secretary who supervises the Bureau of Customs, as well as the Agriculture and Trade and Industry Secretaries, whose mandate is to promote their constituents’ welfare, which is today severely harmed by smuggling.
We have statistics to show that when an oversight committee with the involvement of these three secretaries and private sector leaders exercise an oversight function over the Bureau of Customs, it is at least four times more successful than when this oversight function is not there.
At present, there is no such oversight. Thus, BOC’s transparency and accountability is severely limited.
Jueteng is given much attention. Smuggling is not. The farmers are suffering from smuggling. We join them in asking: “What are we waiting for?”
(The author is chairman of Agriwatch. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail email@example.com or telefax (02) 8522112.)