Subpoenas sought vs 10 individuals allegedly involved in large-scale agri product smuggling

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A senior lawmaker on Monday asked the House Committee on Ways and Means to issue subpoenas against 10 brokers, importers and facilitators amid reports of widespread and large-scale smuggling of agricultural commodities in the country.

Sultan Kudarat Rep. Horacio Suansing Jr., author of House Resolution 311 investigating the smuggling of basic commodities and tobacco, with the end in view of proposing remedial measures, urged the committee to subpoena 10 individuals allegedly involved in large-scale agricultural smuggling in the Philippines.

“I, as principal author of House Resolution No. 311, would like to request the Committee on Ways and Means to issue subpoenas for [some] brokers/importers/facilitators allegedly involved in large-scale agricultural smuggling in the Philippines,” Suansing said.

Suansing also requested records from the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Agriculture on 14 consignees.

“It is our hope that this inquiry will help hold accountable and will reveal to our nation’s taxpayers, dutiful citizens, and most of all, to our local farmers the officials of government responsible for facilitating the proliferation of agricultural product smuggling in the country,” he said.

For his part, House Committee on Ways and Means Chairman Joey Sarte Salceda said his committee would send subpoenas to these brokers, importers, facilitators as well as consignees.

According to Suansing, the effects of unauthorized agricultural commodity imports flooding local markets gravely impact on the livelihoods of local farmers and on the very stability of the country’s macroeconomic position, which should prompt Congress to perform its oversight functions and promote public interest by proposing legislation that will finally empower government agencies and government agents to prevent and eliminate all smuggling activities.

For her part, House Committee on Ways and Means Senior Vice Chairperson Mikaela Angela Suansing, also author of House Resolution 311, said the unabated smuggling of these commodities deprives the national government of billions of pesos in much-needed revenues from uncollected taxes and customs duties.

“In 2023 thus far—meaning, in January 2023 alone—the estimated value of reported smuggled commodities has already totaled to P693.85 million. Tobacco smuggling alone is estimated to cost the government P24.7 to 26 billion per year, with some estimates placing it as high as P60 billion—as an estimated 13 percent to 14 percent of tobacco products sold in the country come from illegal sources,” she said.

“Similarly, billions of pesos worth of smuggled rice enter the country—with the largest reported case being the unloading of P1 billion worth of smuggled rice which arrived in Iloilo in August 2022. Furthermore, P600 million worth of smuggled onions were intercepted in 2022 alone, while P521.5 million worth of smuggled sugar were seized from different ports since 2021,” she added.

With their lower prices due to the absence of taxes, Suansing said, smuggled commodities displace locally produced agricultural commodities, thus negatively impacting the livelihood of the 10.6 million Filipinos working in the agriculture industry.

“The agriculture industry accounts for approximately 23 percent of the country’s work force. As the Representative of the First District of Nueva Ecija, the country’s rice granary, this is particularly concerning to me—as the entry of cheaper, smuggled rice and onions from other countries has pushed down the buying price of the palay produced by our farmers to as low as P10 per kilogram [during the wet season] for palay and P150 per kilogram for red onions [despite the P600 per kilogram selling price of onions in the market],” she said.

“As sponsors of House Resolution No. 311, Rep. Horacio Suansing Jr. and I will endeavor to answer the following questions: Are there employees of the Bureau of Customs, the Department of Agriculture, and its attached agencies who connive with smugglers? How are import documents like Sanitary Phytosanitary Import Clearances [SPSICs] falsified and recycled? Can the automated selectivity system be manually overridden, allowing discretion on assignments of shipments to color-coded lanes? How can these smuggled commodities clear customs despite going through X-rays and physical inspections?” Suansing asked.