A farmer’s supreme sacrifice sparks action | Inquirer Business

A farmer’s supreme sacrifice sparks action

Last Feb. 15 saw significant anti-smuggling results because of the great sacrifice of Rodolfo Niones, Kasamne Onion Growers’ spokesperson and Alyansa Agrikultura (AA) Agricultural Director.

The Ombudsman’s office under the new leadership of former Supreme Court Justice Conchita Carpio-Morales finally took action on a formal complaint by the AA against Bureau of Customs (BoC) officials who ignored the evidence the AA had presented to BoC on onion smuggling.

Unfortunately,  on the same day that the AA acted on the Ombudsman’s subpoena, the Niones family was informed that there was no more hope Niones would survive the cancer that had spread throughout his body.




It is said that many cases of cancer are caused by stress. If so, Niones is a perfect example. He was under stress because of government’s inaction on several anti-smuggling initiatives he had undertaken. Below are a few examples done before BoC Commissioner Rufino Biazon took charge.

1. Kasamne leaders were told to come back to the BoC office on a certain day to finalize an anti-smuggling raid. When they returned, they were made to wait for eight hours, only to be told no raid could take place. This was because of a new policy that all market stall raids would be stopped. Fortunately, this was reversed when AA appealed this decision a few days later.

2. Despite many successful raids, one of which was personally witnessed by Senate Committee Chair Senator Francis Pangilinan, not one of the retail outlets caught selling smuggled onions has been charged.

3. At an AF 2025 follow-up conference last May 12, 2011, no action was cited on a Feb. 11, 2011 AF 2025 recommendation regarding a DA anti-smuggling point person and anti-smuggling plan. It was then that a DA bureau director announced that all onion smuggling had stopped. Niones was furious because smuggled onions were being openly sold in the Divisoria market. Niones is disappointed that today, more than a year later, the DA point person has not gotten a written order, and there is still no DA anti-smuggling plan.

4. The inaction of BoC officials regarding the AA evidence presented on 63 smuggled onion shipments was made worse by similar inaction of the former Ombudsman’s office on the AA complaint. Consequently, the continued rampant onion smuggling because of BoC and Ombudsman’s inaction had made Niones despair, as he saw the onion farmers continue to suffer.

Despite all these, Niones dissuaded his farmers from resorting to violence. Niones enjoyed high credibility with his farmers because his whole life has been committed to fighting for them. Even as a university student, he went underground and risked his life for two years using non-violent means to oppose martial law.



A significant breakthrough due to his efforts ironically came on the same day his family was told Niones would not recover.

The breakthrough which he largely achieved with the Ombudsman took place a few days after another anti-smuggling victory. Niones, together with another AA leader, had written directly to President Noynoy Aquino, on BoC’s inaction regarding onion smuggling. Niones was therefore encouraged when P-Noy told the BoC at its 110th anniversary celebration that the BoC had to reform. This clearly showed the President’s support.

Niones also helped involve two radio program anchors, Louie Tabing from DZMM and Francis Cansino from Radyo ng Bayan, to encourage anti-smuggling reports directly from the private sector to AA and the Federation of Rural Broadcasters.

Last week alone, from the DZMM connection came reports on smuggled beef with its accompanying health hazard. From the Radyo ng Bayan connection came reports of smuggled rice, with one shipment undervalued at P2.64 a kilo.

These reports were immediately sent to BoC. We commend Commissioner Biazon and Deputy Commissioner Lim for the quick 24 hour response to these reports.


Even some government officials are using the communication channels Niones has helped open to report smuggling activities. Last February 14, a Cebu Provincial Board member has called to find out how we can join forces with the anti-smuggling private sector initiative Niones catalyzed. We now recommend that both government and private sector citizens e-mail any smuggling activity they observe to [email protected] or text 0918-9302118. Please identify the product, the specific location, and date when the smuggling was observed. This way, Niones’ supreme sacrifice will not be in vain.

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(The author is chair of Agriwatch, former secretary for presidential flagship programs and projects, and former undersecretary for Agriculture, and Trade and Industry. For inquiries and suggestions, email [email protected] or telefax  8522112)

TAGS: Agriculture, Bureau of Customs, Business, Smuggling

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