Flawed procedure at CustomsBy Ernesto M. Ordoñez
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Because of what I believe is a flawed procedure at the Bureau of Customs, the planned raid to confiscate smuggled carrots from China last Dec. 10 failed.
However, because of the measures taken by Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, Agriculture Senate committee chair Francis Pangilinan, and broadcast stations Channels 2, 5 and 7, the objective of minimizing carrot smuggling was still achieved.
Since Alyansa Agrikultura has 42 member federations and organizations from all agricultural sectors, it gets requests for assistance from different areas of the country.
Last Dec. 6, Alyansa Cordillera director John Kim called to say smuggled carrots from China had flooded the Divisoria market. Benguet Farmers Marketing Cooperative chair Fred Alangdao added details to this report.
Instead of the Benguet farmers getting good prices during the Christmas season, the opposite has happened because of smuggling.
According to a study submitted by a Benguet farmer, the break-even farm gate price for a kilo of carrots is P18. However, if we eliminate costs such as labor, interest, and several other overhead costs, Kim said that the break-even cost is P12.
In better days, the carrot farm gate price is P22, enough to earn a living. But recently, Alangdao reported on nationwide television that the price had dropped to as low as P5 a kilo.
Under the current BOC procedure, evidence must first be submitted before the agency can take action. So last Dec. 7, an Alyansa Benguet leader purchased smuggled carrots.
Knowing that the BOC would question this action, she asked the quarantine head of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) to come with her to witness the purchase.
She then went with the BPI official to submit a box of smuggled carrots with the label “Product of China” to the BOC.
They jointly signed an official statement, attesting that the carrots were bought in Divisoria.
Carrots from China do not have the required phytosanitary clearances.
This means that the products pose a danger to consumer health. In addition, the products may carry foreign pests that may spread to local farms and destroy the livelihood of our farmers.
The BOC wanted to first inspect the stall to see if the complaint was true. This would have been appropriate for complaints from unknown sources, but the complainant in this case included the BPI quarantine head.
We argued that this unnecessary inspection could alert not only the specific establishment but also the whole of Divisoria market that a raid would soon take place.
The night before, a Benguet farmer had seen stacks five feet high of these smuggled carrots in the vicinity of the stall. But when the raiding team arrived, the smuggled products had disappeared.
We had experienced this with the BOC many times before, and were therefore disappointed when Customs officials denied our recommendation to proceed immediately with the raid without possibly alerting the target establishment.
The Customs agency should adopt the same procedure I had instituted when I was DTI undersecretary, which is still practiced today.
If the private sector complainant is credible enough, he or she may meet Philippine National Police officials or agents of the National Bureau of Investigation in a place near the target establishment. The complainant must not identify the location of the establishment. Only senior officials of the PNP or NBI are given this information. These raids are mostly successful, since no timbre, or leaked information, reaches the target establishment.
The BOC should adopt this procedure. It did not surprise us that when the raid in Divisoria was actually conducted on Dec. 10, the smuggled carrots had disappeared.
What saved the operation is that Senator Pangilinan arrived and publicly supported the anti-smuggling action.
In addition, DA Secretary Alcala directed BPI director Clarita Barron to personally take the appropriate action on the evidence collected on Dec. 5. With the help of Channels 2, 5 and 7, Divisoria retailers now know that they are subject to sanctions for selling smuggled goods.
If the retailers won’t buy from the smugglers for fear of being caught, the smugglers will decrease their activities. The Alyansa did these actions before and they succeeded: Prices were restored to their former levels, and farmers’ livelihood was saved.
Smuggling is a curse that the Customs agency should address by improving procedures.
This is but one of several procedures that Alyansa has recommended.
Alyansa has 10 years of experience in fighting smuggling. Their recommendations should be properly considered by the appropriate officials, including those from the Department of Finance who are responsible for supervising the Customs agency.
(The author is chairman of Agri-watch, former Secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former Undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or telefax (02) 8522112).