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Commentary

Smuggling, the private sector and the SALN

/ 04:12 AM September 28, 2020

The fight against smuggling cannot be won without private sector involvement. The SALN (Statement of Assets and Liabilities and Networth) is also an important tool in this fight.

Today, smuggling amounts to at least P78 billion. The latest available United Nations Commodity Trade (Comtrade) Statistics (2018) provides this estimate. Covering the 25 top exporters to the Philippines (which accounts for more than 80 percent of the total), Comtrade identifies the amounts sent to the Philippines reported by exporters, as compared to the amounts that the Bureau of Customs (BOC) reports. The missing amount is mostly outright smuggling or technical smuggling (under valuation, misclassification or misdeclaration.)

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Last Sept. 22, Customs Assistant Commissioner Vincent Maronilla reported that from March 5 to June 20, 2019, P1.4 billion had been lost from smuggling. We commend this action. But only last July 20, I stated in my commentary that more than a year ago, on Aug. 28, 2018, Federation of Free Farmers’ Raul Montemayor reported on massive rice smuggling in a Senate hearing. Action was promised then, but it is only after a year are we hearing progress.

Furthermore, this recent report covers only March to June last year. But we had earlier reported losses of P1.8 billion last year and an additional P0.88 billion this year. What about the huge missing balance? This smuggling occurred at a time when farmers lost P80 billion in 2019 because of the rice tariffication law, which could have been prevented with safeguards that the government refused to implement. The context of this smuggling was explained by Montemayor in a July 18 multisector forum organized by Rice Watch Action Network’s executive director Hazel Tanchuling.

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It is therefore most welcome that Agriculture Secretary Dar formed a joint Department of Agriculture (DA) private sector antismuggling task force that will work with the BOC. This is in response to a July 26 meeting between the five coalition Agri Fisheries Alliance with President Duterte (who was represented by Dar), which involved four departments [including BOC] affecting agriculture.

Last Sept. 18, DA Antismuggling Head Gen. Jonathan Ablang held an online meeting with the private sector and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) director for import services. They agreed to implement a practice that the private sector started on Jan. 11, 2011, that has helped greatly in minimizing industry smuggling. This arrangement holds until today.

In this arrangement, industry subsector associations recommend technical experts from their ranks. When approved by the DTI as well as BOC, they get to wear BOC-accredited badges, collect import data and inspect new arrivals, and use an office BOC provides exclusively for them at the BOC premises. Today, there are 23 industry subsector technical experts who have that status. It is envisioned that under Ablang’s leadership, agriculture subsector experts will, soon have this antismuggling capability.

Critical to winning this battle is critical information, including access to SALN. It was reported this week that this access is limited to very few people, such as a “party filing a request on court orders and in relation to a pending case,” or “an Ombudsman field investigator pursuing a fact-finding case.” An example used to help justify this extreme access limitation was an employee being wrongly accused just because he was buying a BMW car. But surely, investigators would look at other sources of his income, like inheritance or previously acquired property, before any accusation is made. To use this example to justify extreme limited SALN access is rather insulting to intelligence.

This lack of access by the private sector to important information is precisely why smuggling today is in such a sorry state, The two times there were public-private sector antismuggling task forces, the smuggling dropped by 25 percent and 32 percent, respectively. I believe they were abolished because some important people were getting found out. For transparency purposes, I was a member of the first, and a co-chair of the second.

With the rampant smuggling today, it is imperative that we support a public-private antismuggling task force with SALN access, the way Ablang wants it to work. INQ

The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of Presidential programs and Projects, and former undersecretary of DA AND DTI. Contact is [email protected]

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TAGS: Business, SALN, United Nations Commodity Trade (Comtrade) Statistics (2018)
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