Edsa and smuggling
The Feb. 25 celebration of the 31st anniversary of the Edsa celebration highlighted the freedom we now have. With this freedom should come the free flow of information. This is our best weapon against smuggling.
At last Saturday’s Edsa monument commemoration led by the millennials, frustrations on Edsa’s failed vision were passionately expressed. Alyansa Agrikultura convenor Romeo Royandoyan said: “Today, we may well be going back to the dark days of injustice before Edsa. Innocent people are being persecuted and sometimes killed, while the guilty are being set free.”
A youth leader decried the proposal to free Janet Napoles because of its flimsy justification. Napoles allegedly robbed the government of P10 billion in 10 years. Indeed, stealing P1 billion a year is scandalous. But this is nothing compared to the P202.5 billion lost through smuggling in 2015, which is 200 times worse.
It is in this fight against rampant and scandalous smuggling that Edsa’s spirit of free information flow should now be harnessed.
Power of Information
If people know the information related to imports, they can effectively determine where the smuggled goods are coming from. They can then take the necessary corrective action.
When Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon took over the Bureau of Customs (BOC) last year, he ensured that information would flow freely to a specific economic subsector. In this subsector, technical smuggling was reduced from 75 percent to 25 percent. Since the smugglers knew that others in the private sector were getting information on their imports, they reacted by subsequently reporting the correct valuation of their imports.
Unfortunately, a government official irresponsibly stated that the basis for identifying this smuggling was not valid. Though this statement was subsequently retracted, the harm had been done. Charges against these smugglers have been put on hold.
Another blow was dealt when the free information flow under Faeldon was stopped through the machinations of unscrupulous BOC personnel. Sensing that the dark pre-Edsa days were about to recur again, a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) ensuring transparent information flow was signed by the BOC, the Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) and a consumer group.
Last Nov. 7, the MOA signatory from BOC, Deputy Commissioner Arturo Lachica, was shot dead. In the days that followed, the AA signatory received three death threats intended to prevent free information flow.
The BOC management has pledged to seek justice for Lachica’s murder. But the free information flow has not been restored. Indeed, Lachica’s death may have been in vain. Lachica’s killers are laughing with their smuggled earnings all the way to the bank.
How can the spirit of Edsa’s free information flow be restored in the BOC to defeat smuggling? Two ways. First, restore this free information flow that occurred before the MOA signing and Lachica’s death. Three letters were written to the BOC management to restore this information flow, but there has been no reply. It is possible these three letters never reached Faeldon because the information flow has stopped.
Second, convene the Anti-smuggling Committee under the National Competitiveness Council chaired by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominquez and co-chaired by private sector Bill Luz. This is where BOC Commissioner Faeldon is helped by committee members from the government (Departments of Finance, Agriculture, Trade and Industry and Justice). Private sector leaders from industry and government are equally involved in monitoring and recommending antismuggling action. The committee’s previous monthly meetings are partly responsible for the decreased smuggling from 2014 to 2015. The 36-percent smuggling rate went down to 30 percent and the lost government revenue from smuggling decreased from P243 billion to P203 billion.
Since the new government has taken over, there has been only one such meeting in the last eight months. The information flow from the four government departments and the private sector to BOC has been severely hampered. The admirable momentum Faeldon started last year has significantly slowed down because of a deterioration in free information flow that is an Edsa legacy.
It is time we embed this Edsa spirit in the BOC so that we can defeat the smuggling that is 200 times worse than the Napoles scam.
The author is Agriwatch chair, former Secretary of Presidential Programs and Projects, and former undersecretary of DA and DTI. Contact is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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