Large-scale smug­gling of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts is anti-poor

Business World - - OPINION - BEN­JAMIN E. DIO­KNO is a for­mer sec­re­tary of Bud­get and Man­age­ment be­dio­kno@gmail.com

The level of smug­gling in the Philip­pines has reached hor­ren­dous heights. Largescale smug­gling of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts re­tards farm out­put pro­duc­tion, lim­its man­u­fac­tur­ing, and in­creases in­come in­equal­ity.

“Smug­gling in the Philip­pines is at its worst un­der Pres­i­dent Aquino’s ad­min­is­tra­tion, with the smug­gled value av­er­ag­ing $19.6 bil­lion an­nu­ally, an ex­plo­sion from the com­pa­ra­ble fig­ures of $3.1 bil­lion and $3.8 bil­lion yearly dur­ing the terms of Pres­i­dents Joseph Estrada and Glo­ria Ma­ca­pa­gal-Ar­royo, re­spec­tively,” says Rigob­erto Tiglao, a noted opinion writer, cit­ing data from the In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund.

“Af­ter five years and four Cus­toms’ chiefs, there is no doubt that this ad­min­is­tra­tion has failed the agri­cul­ture sec­tor in this re­gard,” says Sama­hang In­dus­triya ng Agrikul­tura (SINAG), an agri­cul­tural lobby group.

“If there is one legacy the agri­cul­ture sec­tor will re­mem­ber the Aquino ad­min­is­tra­tion for, it is the smug­gling that has gone on un­abated over its six- year ten­ure,” SINAG said in a re­cent Se­nate hear­ing.

Smug­gling or il­licit trade of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts is a ma­jor con­straint to eco­nomic growth and, con­se­quently, on job cre­ation in ru­ral ar­eas, where about half of the poor re­side. The avail­abil­ity of cheap, im­ported goods is a ma­jor dis­in­cen­tive for agri­cul­ture and food pro­cess­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

It re­sults in huge rev­enue losses to the gov­ern­ment since pork and chicken have im­port du­ties of 30% to 40%, and palm oil has value added tax of 12%. The rev­enue loss de­prives the gov­ern­ment of re­sources that will finance pub­lic ser­vices such as pub­lic in­fra­struc­ture, ed­u­ca­tion, health and other essen­tial pub­lic goods.

Ram­pant smug­gling of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts (rice, sugar, onion, gar­lic, meat, etc.) is a ma­jor de­ter­mi­nant of the Aquino III ad­min­is­tra­tion’s dis­mal per­for­mance in agri­cul­ture. Un­sur­pris­ingly, dur­ing the past five years, agri­cul­ture grew by an av­er­age rate of 1.6%. Last year, it even stag­nated.

Fi­nally, smug­gling has se­ri­ous re­dis­tribu­tive ef­fect, too. The un­con­trolled smug­gling of agri­cul­ture prod­ucts re­duces the po­ten­tial in­comes of farm­ers and fish­er­men, most of whom are bru­tally poor. Since lo­cally pro­duced agri­cul­tural goods can­not com­pete with cheap im­ported food prod­ucts, there is lit­tle in­cen­tive for farm­ers to pro­duce. LARGE-SCALE AGRI­CUL­TURE SMUG­GLING AS ECO­NOMIC SAB­O­TAGE In its wan­ing days, the present Congress ap­proved a bill declar­ing large-scale agri­cul­ture smug­gling as eco­nomic sab­o­tage. The House and the Se­nate passed House Bill No. 6380 (An Act Declar­ing Agri­cul­tural Smug­gling as Eco­nomic Sab­o­tage, Pre­scrib­ing Penal­ties There­for, and for Other Pur­poses), spon­sored by Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Con­rado M. Estrella III, et. al. and Se­nate Bill 2023, with the same ti­tle, and spon­sored by Sen­a­tor Cyn­thia Vil­lar, et. al., re­spec­tively.

The bill pro­vides that the smug­gling of sugar, corn, pork, poul­try, gar­lic, onion, car­rots, fish, and cru­cif­er­ous veg­eta­bles amount­ing to a min­i­mum of P1 mil­lion will be con­sid­ered as eco­nomic sab­o­tage. Smug­glers of rice, amount­ing to P10 mil-

lion, also face stiff penal­ties un­der the bill.

Un­der the bill, il­le­gal im­porters of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts will face an im­pris­on­ment of not less than 17 years but not more than 20 years. It will also pe­nal­ize vi­o­la­tors of the law with a fine of twice the fair mar­ket value of the smug­gled prod­ucts and its cor­re­spond­ing amount of taxes, du­ties and other charges.

The bill de­fines agri­cul­tural eco­nomic sabo­teurs to in­clude traders who prey on co­op­er­a­tives by us­ing their per­mits for smug­gling pur­poses, of­fi­cers of dummy cor­po­ra­tions, non- gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions, or as­so­ci­a­tions who know­ingly sell, lend, lease, as­sign, and al­low the unau­tho­rized use of their im­port per­mits.

It also calls for the con­fis­ca­tion of smug­gled prod­ucts, can­cel­la­tion and re­vo­ca­tion of busi­ness li­cense, im­port per­mits, and other per­ti­nent doc­u­ments for im­por­ta­tion.

It also per­ma­nently dis­qual­i­fies eco­nomic sabo­teurs from im­port­ing agri­cul­tural prod­ucts.

Pub­lic of­fi­cials or em­ploy­ees act­ing in con­nivance with pri­vate in­di­vid­u­als or en­ti­ties will be dis­missed from pub­lic of­fice and banned from vot­ing in any elec­tions.

The bill is strongly sup­ported by agri­cul­ture stake­hold­ers: the ir­ri­ga­tors ( Pan­gasi­nan Fed­er­a­tion of Ir­ri­ga­tor’s As­so­ci­a­tion, Pro­vin­cial Con­fed­er­a­tion of Ir­ri­ga­tors As­so­ci­a­tion of La Union, UPRIIS Con­fed­er­a­tion of Farm­ers- Ir­ri­ga­tors’ As­so­ci­a­tions); the academe ( Pan­gasi­nan State Univer­sity, Nueva Viz­caya State Univer­sity, Cen­tral Lu­zon State Univer­sity); and farm­ers group ( Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Hog Farm­ers, Philip­pine Con­fed­er­a­tion of Grains As­so­ci­a­tions).

AP­PROVED, LAPSED INTO LAW, OR VE­TOED?

The ap­proval of this large-scale-agri­cul­ture-smug­gling- as- eco­nomic-sab­o­tage bill gave farm­ers, hogs and poul­try rais­ers, and fish­er­men a glim­mer of hope.

But what hap­pened to the bill? That’s the big mys­tery. Was it ap­proved, al­lowed to lapse into law, or ve­toed by Pres­i­dent Aquino?

Mr. Aquino’s ac­tion on the bill will re­veal his true color? Is he a smug­gler- cod­dler or smug­gler- buster?

If Mr. Aquino ve­toes the bill, it would re­veal that he does not re­ally care for the farm­ers and fish­er­men. In ad­di­tion, it would show that he does not mind go­ing down in Philip­pine his­tory as the Pres­i­dent who con­doned big- time smug­gling of agri­cul­tural prod­ucts.

If Mr. Aquino ap­proves the bill into law, or at least pas­sively let the bill to lapse into law, it would show that he’s briefed about the neg­a­tive ef­fects of ram­pant smug­gling on the econ­omy, on lo­cal pro­duc­ers and in­vestors, and on the ru­ral poor. By ap­prov­ing the bill he would demon­strate that he has the po­lit­i­cal will to run af­ter smug­glers in his fi­nal days in of­fice.

What is it go­ing to be, Mr. Pres­i­dent?

CORE BEN­JAMIN V. DIO­KNO Smug­gling of agri­cul­ture prod­ucts cuts po­ten­tial in­comes of farm­ers and fish­er­men. And since lo­cal­lypro­duced agri­cul­tural goods can­not com­pete with cheap im­ported food prod­ucts, there is lit­tle in­cen­tive for farm­ers to pro­duce.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Philippines

© PressReader. All rights reserved.