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COMMENTARY

People power to fight smuggling

People Power is an effective tool for good governance. This was seen last Aug. 26 during the mass protest against the pork barrel.

Because of people power, government officials previously favoring the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) now openly reject it.

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This same people power must be harnessed to fight smuggling. According to UN Trade Statistics, import underreporting (which is mostly smuggling) increased from P4 billion in 2004 to P24 billion in 2011.

When a government official told me that the main reason for the increase in underreporting was the overall rise in trade, we replied that that was incorrect: The underreporting significantly increased by almost four times from 8 percent in 2004 to 30 percent in 2011.

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Just as in the case of pork barrel, there was a significant governance failure in the campaign against smuggling. In his state of the nation address last July 23, the President said that more than P200 billion in foregone government revenue was lost annually to smuggling. The loss in one year is more than 20 times the P10 billion Janet Napoles allegedly scammed in 10 years.

More importantly, the smuggling problem takes away jobs and makes poverty worse. Department of Agriculture (DA) statistics show that in two years of unabated pork smuggling, 20 percent of small backyard raisers lost their livelihood.

Inclusive growth means that the benefits are felt not only by the rich, but also the poor. What happened among the backyard pork raisers was worse because smuggling made them even poorer. As we do the proactive work of ensuring that economic growth reaches the poor, we must do the even more critical task of safeguarding the welfare of the poor by not allowing smuggling to worsen their plight.

Last August 28, a people-powered raid was held. The initiative was taken by Cordillera farmer leaders belonging to the Alyansa Agrikultura, a coalition of 42 federations and organizations representing all agricultural sectors.

Smuggled carrots had severely affected the livelihood of Cordillera farmers.

John Kim of the Benguet Farmers Cooperative asked his followers to buy smuggled carrots in Manila outlets. These were then presented to La Trinidad Mayor Edna Tabanda and DA Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Director Clarito Barron for a planned joint action with the Bureau of Customs (BOC).

This meant that the public and private sector would jointly conduct a raid to confiscate the carrots and charge the retailers for illegally selling smuggled products. The retailers would then be questioned to reveal the source of the carrots so that the big fish would be identified and caught.

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Hopefully, this effort will stop the sale of carrots from China that have no phyto-sanitary clearance and have no import permits.

As a result, carrots in the country will not jeopardize the health of our consumers. Also, foreign pests from these carrots will not spread and cause damage to our crops, especially since we do not know how to control these new pests.

Kim said that last June and July, the buying price at the La Trinidad Trading Post for a kilo of carrots was P15.

However, during the first week of August, this dropped to P5 because of the massive entry of smuggled carrots.

On the evening of Aug. 28, the farmers led the BPI and BOC to where they bought the smuggled carrots. This was aired on nationwide TV. Soon after, the price of carrots began to rise to its former levels.

The fight against smuggling is too important to leave to the government alone. We have seen the government largely fail in curbing smuggling. Last Aug. 28 saw the start of a new form of people power. Private citizens will now buy the smuggled goods themselves, present their receipts to the government authorities for verification, and accompany the authorities during the raids to prevent possible “fixing” during these raids.

Instead of the private sector complaining in general terms about smuggling, and the government equally vague in its response, the private sector will now perform a shared governance role. Market players will actively participate in anti-smuggling activities. They will then hold accountable government officials who will not give the proper attention to the smuggled goods that they will present to the authorities for verification and action.

The recently conducted raid showed that the DA and the BOC responded quickly and effectively to this private sector initiative. People-powered anti-smuggling efforts done with the government in the public-private-participation (PPP) mode advocated by P-Noy may well be the solution to address the smuggling curse.

(The author is chair of Agriwatch, former secretary for Presidential Flagship Programs and Projects, and former undersecretary for Agriculture, Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, e-mail agriwatch_phil@yahoo.com or telefax (02) 8522112).

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TAGS: Business, Commentary, ernesto m. ordonez, PDAF, people power, pork barrel, Pork barrel cam, Priority Development Assistance Fund, Smuggling
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