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Compassion, corruption and Customs

While some Bureau of Customs (BOC) officials show compassion for smuggling victims and consequently take antismuggling action, others prefer corruption and connive in smuggling activities.

Smuggled vegetables have been flooding the market in recent months. Last week, a farmer leader said, “in August, farmers and traders called the attention of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to contraband cabbages being sold in Divisoria at P70 a kilo. This is much lower than the price of Benguet cabbage at P115 to P125 a kilo.”

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On Sept. 27, the DA announced it would form a joint task force composed of the DA, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), BOC and Bureau of Internal Revenue to address this problem. In addition to this action being late, this task force has no private sector representative. This may only result in insufficient compassion and increased corruption.

Earlier, Lorna Menzi of La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post, said, “our buyers reduced their orders because of the pandemic. With the entry of cheap imported carrots, orders dropped even more. The wholesale price for Benguet carrots is currently P50 a kilo, while imported carrots sell at P25 per kilo.”

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BOC rejection

This experience could have been avoided. Nine months ago, on Dec. 18, the BOC rejected a proposed memorandum of agreement with the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. This provides private sector agriculture technical experts the same arrangement the BOC has with industry technical experts from the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI). After strict BOC screening, a technical expert obtains a BOC mission order that allows access to information and product inspection.

The proposed MOA won the endorsement of an assistant commissioner, but was turned down by the BOC top management. Since then, the mission orders of even the industry technical experts have been revoked.

The participation of the private sector is necessary to win the fight against smuggling. In 2005, a Cabinet Oversight Committee Against Smuggling (Cocas) was created. It included secretaries of the DA, the DTI, the Department of Justice and the Department of Finance (DOF), as well as two private sector representatives who knew smuggling activities in their respective sectors: Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) for agriculture and FPI for industry. Cocas met every two weeks to review and improve the BOC’s antismuggling action. As a result, smuggling rate decreased by 25 percent.

However, Cocas was later abolished. Many believed it was because Cocas caught a big fish, a favored congressman and a son of a Cabinet official.

In 2015, a lower level antismuggling committee was created under the National Competitiveness Council. It’s chair was from government (DOF) while it’s cochair was from the private sector (AA). This was also very successful: the smuggling rate decreased by 17 percent. However, with the new government in 2016, then Customs Commissioner Nicanor Faeldon abolished this committee. Subsequently, AA proposed private sector access to agriculture import data, but this was also turned down.

Now, five years later, there is a planned government task force to address smuggled vegetables. But there is no private sector representative. It is also limited to smuggled vegetables, and does not cover other smuggled products like rice, pork and chicken.

Compassion in solution There is a split between BOC officials with compassion and those who prefer corruption. I have a personal experience that illustrates this. Two BOC personnel signed affidavits stating that I was not guilty of the harassment charges filed against me by an apprehended onion smuggler. Their supervisor ordered them to withdraw their affidavits. Thankfully, I still won the case.

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The corruption that overcomes compassion in some BOC areas should stop. This deprives our COVID-19 victims and front-liners the assistance they deserve, and adds to our lost jobs because of cheap smuggled goods.

The solution is a compassionate public-private antismuggling committee that meets monthly with the BOC chief to monitor and improve antismuggling actions. Only then can the current administration leave a legacy, rather than a tragedy, for our future.

The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary of the DA and the DTI. Contact is [email protected] yahoo.com

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TAGS: Bureau of Customs (BOC), Corruption, smuggling activities
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