Accountability needed in anti-smuggling fightBy Ernesto M. Ordoñez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Rhetoric will not become reality unless there is accountability. This is particularly true in the fight against the smuggling of agricultural products.
Gains were recorded recently by the Bureau of Customs (BoC) and the Department of Agriculture (DA).
For this, BoC Commissioner Rufino Biazon and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala should be commended.
BoC has caught smuggled rice in Subic. DA has secured realistic reference value prices for pork and poultry.
As a result, pork and poultry prices improved because of the resulting decrease in the massive undervalued smuggled imports.
But the rhetoric in using the most important tool to fight smuggling has not progressed into action.
This tool is the Inward Foreign Manifest (IFM), a list that contains the product being imported, the importer’s name, the country source, the shipping vessel and the date of arrival.
The IFM has many uses. One is to compare the list of arrivals with those with import permits. Those without import permits are smuggled and can automatically be confiscated immediately.
In 2009, the BoC provided the IFM to DA. This was stopped the same year because of influential sources. Since then, DA has had no effective access to these IFMs. This leaves BoC with the tremendous power of letting shipments without import permits get smuggled in. There is no longer the important check and balance mechanism of DA’s access to BoC’s IFMs.
Let us review a few significant dates:
•Feb. 11, 2011—The AF 2025 Conference unanimously resolved that DA should get the IFMs from BoC to prevent smuggling. DA agreed, but said this was BoC’s prerogative;
•March 28 and April 2, 2012—More than one year later, because of rampant smuggling that caused 20 percent of backyard hog raisers to lose their livelihood over the past two years, farmer leaders placed full-page ads in two major dailies to ask for government anti-smuggling action;
•April 10, 2012—In response, DA wrote DoF officially to ask for DA access to the IFMs;
•April 27-28, 2012—Since no action was taken, producers staged a “pork and poultry holiday,” refusing to sell their products in Metro Manila wet markets.
•May 3, 2012—A press conference announcing that another pork and poultry holiday, this time with participation from Alyansa Agrikultura farmers from other agricultural sectors, would be held if there was still no action.
•May 7, 2012—At a meeting of DoF, BoC, DA and farmer leaders, the DoF and BoC finally pledged to give DA access to the IFMs;
• May 22, 2012—BoC announced to the government-private sector National Agricultural Fisheries Council (NAFC) Livestock Committee that DA still had no access to BoC because this depended on the DoF.
Today, there is still no effective DA access to BoC’s IFMs. BoC says that DA can now access IFM data, but two days ago, Alyansa Agrikultura was informed that DA was still waiting for computers to retrieve this data efficiently. These will arrive after two months.
Meanwhile, the IFMs are stored in the BoC databank and are hardly accessed by DA personnel.
Who is accountable? At the Department of Trade and Industry, there is the Bureau of Import Services Director who is responsible for the anti-smuggling effort. At the DA, there is no such bureau, no such director, and no written order on who is accountable for the anti-smuggling effort. In 2007, DA had easy access to the IFMs. This was when a DA-DoF Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) was made.
Why can’t this be done again?
After a year and seven months of waiting by the farmers for anti-smuggling systematic action, the DA still does not have effective access to the IFMs.
This can be achieved by pinpointing accountability for the anti-smuggling effort. Rhetoric will then become reality in many areas. For example, the 10 supermarkets caught selling smuggled poultry products last December 2011 have never been charged. Neither have the smugglers who imported onions without import permits been warned. Sadly, these smugglers know of DA’s inability to get effective access to BoC’s IFMs.
The DA budget has increased by 53 percent from P34.8 billion in 2011 to P52.9 billion in 2012. Yet agricultural growth has recorded a 1 percent and 0.7 percent growth, respectively, for the first two quarters this year. Smuggling is one of the key reasons for this slow growth.
We must now fully support Secretary Alcala by helping pinpoint accountability for anti-smuggling, especially regarding the IFM issue. Only then can we win the fight against smuggling, which today causes foregone annual government revenue of more than P100 billion, the loss of livelihoods, and increase in rural poverty.
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org or telefax (02) 85221.)
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