Farmers bullish on BoC’s BiazonBy Ernesto M. Ordoñez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Leaders of Alyansa Agrikultura, a coalition of 42 federations and organizations representing all the major agricultural sectors, will meet newly installed Bureau of Customs (BoC) Commissioner Ruffy Biazon on Friday. The fight against smuggling revolves around the issue of political will. Because of what Biazon has announced and done during the last few weeks, the Alyansa is bullish on Biazon.
Biazon cannot fight smuggling by himself. He has appointed Gen. Danilo Lim to be his chief of intelligence. With what appears to be a dynamic duo, the farmers believe that there is hope for a successful fight against smuggling.
But this should be supplemented in four areas where Commissioner Biazon should exercise strong political will.
Public-Private Partnership (PPP)
PPP should not just be for infrastructure projects. It should instead be a spirit embedded in our country’s governance. What better area to demonstrate this than in the difficult fight against smuggling?
We need not reinvent the wheel. In 2004, smuggling was severely curtailed when the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Ant-Smuggling (Cocas) included two private sector leaders from the Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) and the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI) to participate in its regular biweekly meetings.
The Cocas was chaired by then DILG Secretary Angelo Reyes and four other secretaries from the Departments of Agriculture (DA), Trade and Industry (DTI), Finance, and Justice. According to FPI president Jesus Aranza, this was the most successful drive against smuggling he had seen.
After the Cocas caught a few “big fish,” it was abolished. Smuggling flourished once again. Biazon should now create a PPP Task Force on Anti-smuggling. Biweekly meetings, as previously done by the Cocas, will provide the private sector monitoring and transparency that will keep the anti-smuggling momentum going.
The further involvement of the other departments, specially the DA and DTI which should also be accountable for fighting the smuggling that is destroying their respective sectors, will greatly help in this fight.
Punishing the culprits
When the smugglers are caught, they usually go scot-free since the cases filed against them are often weak. We believe much of this is done deliberately in connivance with the smugglers. Offers of the private sector to help file stronger cases have been ignored.
Biazon should now welcome, not shun, private sector input to build stronger cases. There will then be a greater likelihood that the smugglers will be punished, thus providing a powerful deterrent against future smuggling.
The BoC routinely receives the inward-foreign manifest (IFM). The IFM contains the products being imported, the vessels that are carrying them, and the arrival date of these imports even before they reach our shores.
Today, the BoC does not give these IFMs consistently to DA. Without IFMs and a DA anti-smuggling point person, which was recommended during the AF 2025 conference as early as last February, no systematic measures are being taken to prevent the entry of smuggled agricultural products.
Since the IFMs list the product arrivals that have no import permits, the DA can easily arrange for their confiscation. However, because of strong unscrupulous forces, this simple and obvious preventive action is not being done.
Finally, there is a need for Biazon to appoint a BoC point person with enough authority for agricultural leaders to count on when they encounter smuggling. In the past, varying point persons were identified. Worse, these persons did not have sufficient authority and were hard to contact. One was even reported to have gotten money from the smugglers.
A person like Gen. Danilo Lim, who said he would find the missing smuggled containers even in the farthest corners of the Philippines, or one with a similar track record of courage and single-mindedness, should be identified for the agriculture leaders to contact when swift action is needed. This will greatly alleviate the frustration the farmers feel after years of being ignored.
There is no secret to fighting smuggling. The farmers know what is smuggled, who is smuggling it, and even when it happens. But in the past, they have been no match to the influence and money of the smugglers. The only element that can overcome the smuggling forces is political will. And because the new BoC commissioner appears to have this, the farmers are bullish on Biazon.
(The author is chairman of Agriwatch, former secretary for presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary for agriculture, and trade and industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail email@example.com or telefax (02) 8522112.)
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