It’s the IFM, stupid!By Ernesto M. Ordoñez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Strong words, but borrowing from President Bill Clinton’s successful strategy of emphasizing a point, here goes: “You want to stop smuggling? It’s the IFM, stupid!”
If the Bureau of Customs (BoC) will automatically transmit the Inward Foreign Manifest (IFM) to the Department of Agriculture (DA), then rampant agriculture smuggling will come to a halt.
The IFM is a list that contains the product being imported, the importer’s name, country source, shipping vessel and date of arrival.
The BoC gets the IFM two days before arrival.
Only the BoC has these IFMs. The BoC refuses to give them to the DA, which is mandated to look after the welfare of the farmers and fisherfolk.
Thus, there is no check and balance mechanism to curb BoC’s potential for smuggling. DA can provide this mechanism. If DA has the IFMs, BoC will no longer be the only agency with the IFM information. Today, certain unscrupulous BoC officials make arrangements with the smugglers for outright or technical smuggling.
This usually happens because only the BoC has the IFM details of each importation.
On the other hand, if DA gets the IFM list automatically from the BoC two days before the product arrival, it can first look at the product being imported. Does the product need an import permit? Most agricultural products do. Therefore, DA can identify all the importers with no import permits. It can then make arrangements to confiscate the smuggled products and charge the smuggler the moment the product arrives.
Once the DA gets the IFM, it is goodbye to most of the smuggling. However, the BoC will not likely give the IFM to the DA because this will infringe on its illegal livelihood!
The majority of BoC personnel are not involved in smuggling. It is instead a small but powerful group of unscrupulous BoC officials that is giving the BoC a bad name.
We should commend BoC Commissioner Rufino Biazon for his praiseworthy efforts. But without an institutionalized check-and-balance system, rampant smuggling will flourish despite the best of intentions.
Aside from looking at import permits, an examination of the importers listed in the IFM can provide valuable leads. There are importers who have been previously charged with smuggling, but because of technical deficiencies continue to smuggle today. What do they smuggle, and when do they do this? Only the BoC knows, because only the BoC has the IFMs.
If the DA has this list, DA can put up a watchlist of these suspected smugglers. In addition, DA can also put on this list the importers who have large outstanding balances. For certain instances, it can withhold quarantine clearance and product release until these balances are paid.
One can also use other IFM data for valuable anti-smuggling leads. One is volume (e.g., the volume may be too large for an importer with very little equity). Another is the country source (e.g., all pork and poultry products from China are banned because of phytosanitary considerations. Yet many are still smuggled in: This is part of the P382-billion “under-reported” China imports in 2008 and 2009, according to the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics). The IFM is indeed rich with anti-smuggling leads. If only DA had this!
The Alyansa Agrikultura, a coalition of 42 federations and organizations representing all major agricultural sectors, has been advocating the automatic transmittal of the IFM from the BoC to the DA since its establishment in 2003.
For a few years, the IFM was transmitted to the DA as provided by the memorandum of agreement signed by then Finance Secretary Margarito Teves and then Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap.
But this practice did not last long as the BoC decided to put a stop to it in 2009.
The automatic transmittal of the IFM to the DA has not been restored since.
To the credit of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, he wrote Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima last April 10, asking for the automatic transmittal of the IFM to the DA. But according to a DA assistant secretary we called Thursday, there was still no response.
We also asked this DA official if he would implement systematically and thoroughly the check-and-balance system we recommended, which had not been done by DA.
He said: “Definitely, since Secretary Alcala is fully committed to fight smuggling.”
Today’s rampant smuggling has resulted in an annual government loss of at least P110 billion and the loss of livelihood in both the agriculture and industry sectors.
If we want to stop this hemorrhage, what are we waiting for? It’s the IFM, stupid!
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) 85221.
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