Imploring the President to help in ending smuggling | Inquirer Business
Commentary

Imploring the President to help in ending smuggling

Unless President Marcos involves himself personally in pursuing his antismuggling commitment, the desired results will not be achieved. Smuggling deprives us not only of badly needed government revenues, but also jobs due to unfair competition and increased poverty.

Unfortunately, smuggling has more than doubled in the last two years. One can measure smuggling by simply opening the United Nations Comtrade website. Each country records its exports to us. This can then be compared against reports from the Bureau of Customs (BOC) on the amounts it receives.

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The difference indicates how big of an amount was smuggled. Though an adjustment can be made because some of our imports are then exported, this is insignificant.

Though the BOC has computerized—commendably—some of its operations, rampant smuggling still persists. It has sadly increased in just two years from only P500 billion in 2019 to P1.2 trillion in 2021.

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If the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership is ratified because the advantages to the industry and service sectors outweigh the disadvantages to the agriculture sector, the government must also implement effective antismuggling measures.

These will protect farmers, fisherfolk and agriculture stakeholders from increased agriculture imports. Not doing so will bolster the claim that our government gives more attention to the rich and largely ignores the poor.

When I participated as a private sector representative in the public-private oversight committees on antismuggling during the time of former Presidents Gloria Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III, I witnessed how the smuggling rate decreased by 25 percent and 31 percent, respectively. The committee was composed of top level officials from five departments (Finance, Agriculture, Trade and Industry, Justice, and Interior and Local Government) and two private sector leaders (one from agriculture and one from industry).

The members met every month with the BOC. Monitoring was done, recommendations were made and joint action was undertaken. Most importantly, the committee reported directly to the President.

Unfortunately, both committees were disbanded—allegedly because they had become too successful.

RejectedA request to meet current BOC Commissioner Yogi Ruiz by the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Fisheries was recently denied.

He said “higher-ups” had ordered him not to meet agriculture stakeholders, unless the Department of Agriculture (DA) gave explicit instructions allowing this. When DA was asked regarding this, the stakeholders were also denied.

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In the last two years, the Federation of Philippine Industries and the Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) have been getting a lot of rejections trying to communicate with the BOC.

This lack of willingness to meet may be largely responsible for the doubling of smuggling in the last two years. The transparency, accountability and responsibility in those times the public-private oversight committee existed are largely absent today.

Recently, there have been several documented reports by newspaper columnists and agriculture leaders on apprehended smuggled cargo being released to the open market. However, little or no action has been taken.

The head of an AA organization even stopped communicating with the group because of death threats. This is unprecedented.

Borrowing from the Mona Lisa song, “Many smuggling complaints are laid by the BOC doorstep. They just lie there, and they die there.”

This should no longer be the case.

President Marcos himself must get involved in the antismuggling efforts. First, he must restore the historically successful public-private committee that will meet with the BOC monthly and report results directly to him.

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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TAGS: Commentary, Poverty, Smuggling
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