Progress in the country’s antismuggling efforts
An antismuggling drive is even more necessary now. This is because of the expected influx in imports once the country ratifies the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
Events in the last 10 days show promising progress in this fight. Last March 17, at the general meeting of the Management Association of the Philippines, Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero announced impressive system changes at the Bureau of Customs (BOC). Especially notable are the automation of 108 out of 148 BOC core processes, the values transformation program and the personnel scorecard system. Despite these improvements, significant smuggling still persists.
Last March 21, the public-private Philippine Council of Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF) antismuggling technical working group (TWG) agreed on two issues: on the functions the TWG must undertake and on the need for an antismuggling public-private high-level oversight committee that would have regular monthly meetings with the BOC chief. This committee would monitor and support the BOC’s antismuggling plans and operations.
The Department of Agriculture (DA) had previously invited a private sector leader to join a DA-led antismuggling committee. However, it was limited to phytosanitary measures and could not discuss outright technical smuggling (i.e. undervaluation, misclassification, misrepresentation).
The leader declined because the scope was too limited. This antismuggling committee was eventually formed, but it had no private sector representation.
I hope that the tide has turned.
During the TWG meeting on March 21, Association of Abaca Pulp Manufacturers, Inc. executive director Aurora Peralta proposed the functions of a reengineered public-private DA antismuggling committee. With a doctorate in Government Policies and Business Management, her well thought-out proposal was unanimously approved.
In summary, these functions are: 1) to understand the projects and operations of the BOC; 2) to receive reports on smuggling of agriculture products, relay them to the BOC and monitor them all the way to their conclusions; and 3) to recommend measures in improving government efforts to stop smuggling.
She had argued that the DA antismuggling committee did not have enough clout and power to motivate swift action from the BOC. She therefore supported the restoration of an antismuggling public-private oversight committee.
Since a similar structure had succeeded in decreasing smuggling rate twice in the past when it was operational, she suggested to restore this immediately. This oversight committee previously reported to the President. Consequently, the monthly BOC meetings proved very effective.
It was recommended that this new (albeit old) committee would be chaired by the Office of the President, with the Department of Finance as vice chair. Its members would include the departments of Agriculture, Trade and Industry, Justice and the Interior and Local Government.
There would be one private sector representative each from agriculture and industry. This structure was likewise unanimously approved.
Agriculture stakeholders welcome these recent efforts.
They now await similar progress on the other necessary preparatory mechanisms vis-a-vis RCEP, such as: honest and effective budget use, adequate quarantine personnel and equipment, a market information system as required by law, appropriate subsector identification of threats and recommended actions, and the actualization of the short-term plans in the threatened subsectors’ road maps alongside public-private implementation teams.
The list was officially presented to PCAF’s international committee. They should be acted upon prior to a possible RCEP ratification to prepare our agriculture sector properly.
Our decision to join the World Trade Organization, which we implemented sans preparatory actions, resulted in significant agriculture damage. This should not happen again with RCEP.
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