Systems approach vs smuggling | Inquirer Business
Commentary

Systems approach vs smuggling

A systems approach, not a piecemeal uncoordinated one, is necessary to win the fight against smuggling. This approach does not rely on the Bureau of Customs (BOC) alone. To ensure transparency and accountability, it is important to have the collaboration and cooperation of other government agencies and the private sector.

We recognize here the competent staff of the public-private Philippine Council of Agriculture and Fisheries (PCAF), who are helping pursue this challenging approach: Juliet Opena, Frances Macalintal, Sara Bales, Bernard Masa and Marsela Perena.

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During a Senate hearing chaired by Senate Cynthia Villar last Oct. 18, Senator Raffy Tulfo named four people allegedly behind agricultural smuggling : Michael Yang, Andrew Chang, Manual Tan and Lea Cruz. Except for Yang, the other three were already identified last April 2 in former Senate President Vicente Sotto’s list of agriculture smugglers.

Tulfo alleged: “This Michael Yang appears to be the kingpin in vegetable smuggling and he likes to befriend people from the [Department of Agriculture].”

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The issue is especially important now, given the recent discussions at the PCAF.

Alarmed at the continued rampant smuggling, PCAF formed an antismuggling committee to address the problem. The catalyst was the August 19 report by the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Area Inc., an Alyansa Agrikultura member. The death threats they have received of late have succeeded in dampening their antismuggling efforts.

The committee said smuggling can easily been stopped if persons of interest are apprehended. Consequently, a meeting with BOC Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz was planned.

Consensus

The committee’s consensus was that fighting smuggling needs a system approach. It recommended the restoration of the successful antismuggling oversight committee that included other government departments (Finance, Agriculture, Trade and Industry, Justice and Interior and Local Government government) and one private sector representative each from the agriculture and industry sectors. In the past, this committee met with the BOC monthly and reported their findings directly to the President.

Because of transparency and accountability, the smuggling rate decreased by 25 percent and 31 percent, respectively, during the period the committee existed (under the time of former presidents Gloria Arroyo and Benigno Aguino III). Sadly, this committee was abolished, with some speculating it was because it was too successful. Its revival is now being considered by senior government officials.

Meanwhile, the fight against smuggling must continue. Alas, when the proposed meeting with Ruiz was scheduled, the latter said he had gotten instructions from “higher-ups” that he could not have the meeting without explicit approval from the DA. When Ruiz was asked if farmer leaders in their individual capacities could meet with him, he also declined. When this subject was taken up with DA officials, they said they would not approve it.

In the Dec. 6, 2021 multimedia interview with then presidential candidate Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. with a virtual audience of 229,000, he supported stronger antismuggling measures to combat “serious market disruptions and unfair trade practices.”

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Today, the government is still using a piecemeal and uncoordinated approach, relying almost totally on BOC for the needed antismuggling action.

This cannot go on. With PCAF support, our new government should now restore the successful antismuggling oversight committee using the systems approach. Government agencies and the private sector must meet with the BOC chief monthly and report directly to the President.

With transparency and accountability from this systems approach, the fight against smuggling can again succeed—as it was shown clearly in the past.

The author is Agriwatch chair, former secretary of presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry. Contact is [email protected]

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