Senate role in smugglingBy Ernesto M. Ordoñez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The Alyansa Agrikultura, a coalition of 42 federations and organizations representing all the major agricultural sectors, has asked Senator Francis Pangilinan to conduct a Senate hearing on smuggling. This is because of rampant smuggling in the agriculture sector today. The Senate appears to be the Alyansa’s last resort.
The Alyansa has exhausted all other avenues. It has gone to the Bureau of Customs, Department of Agriculture, Department of Finance, and even the Office of the Ombudsman. The Alyansa now wishes to go to the Senate to inform it of widespread smuggling and recommend legislative actions.
Primarily working with the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI) and the Fair Trade Alliance (FTA), the Alyansa recommended an anti-smuggling bill that was passed by the House of Representatives but bypassed by the Senate in 2007. Consequently, the Alyansa started from scratch for the 2007-2010 Congress. Since the anti-smuggling bill was likewise not passed in 2010, it had to do the same for the current 2010-2013 Congress.
A key provision in the proposed bill is the creation of a public-private sector oversight anti-smuggling body. Representing the public sector would be the Department of Finance, which supervises the Bureau of Customs (BoC), the Department of Agriculture (DA), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Department of Justice (DoJ). From the private sector would be one representative each from agriculture and industry.
This body had already been established by executive action in 2004. It was called the Cabinet Oversight Committee on Anti-smuggling (Cocas). For the Cocas meetings held every two weeks, the FPI and the Alyansa represented the private sector. According to FPI chair Jesus Aranza, it was the only time that the anti-smuggling campaign achieved significant success.
It is easy to see why. There was an effective check and balance system for the BoC, which is sorely lacking today. It is widely believed that Cocas was abolished precisely because it was successful in fighting smuggling.
This body can be restored through government executive action, without requiring a law. The Alyansa has been asking the executive branch to do this. But this has fallen on deaf ears. Thus, there is an urgent request for Senate hearing for possible legislative action on this. During this hearing, the Alyansa intends to give the true picture of rampant smuggling. This has been the main cause for desperate farmer action such as the recent pork and poultry holiday.
Because of the current rampant onion smuggling, the Alyansa has asked the DA to get the list of DA onion imports from BoC, compare this with the list of those with import permits, and charge those without permits with smuggling. Simple, isn’t it?
If the smugglers know that this will be done, they will not smuggle so brazenly. But the DA says it is not acting on this recommendation because the BoC refuses to give this list of importations through the Inward Foreign Manifest.
In 2009, the Alyansa secured a list of 63 onion importations where the DA identified more than 90 percent as being without import permits. The Alyansa asked BoC to charge these illegal importers. But BoC refused. Consequently, onion smuggling continued unabated. The Alyansa then charged the appropriate BoC officials with irresponsible inaction at the Ombudsman’s Office. There was no response for three years. Thankfully, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has finally acted.
Two days ago, the Alyansa submitted a list of 111 onion import shipments to DA. This is so that DA can work with BoC to charge those without import permits with smuggling. During the last three years, this simple procedure was never done. Is it surprising that rampant onion smuggling persists? If the recommended public-private anti-smuggling oversight body had been restored, this would not have happened.
It is imperative the Senate calls for an anti-smuggling hearing. Our Senators should find out the true state of smuggling and immediately pass a law that will set up the structures and provisions to stop it. It has been five years since the Senate bypassed an Anti-smuggling bill approved by the House of Representatives. The proposed hearing will be the first step in correcting this situation.
(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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