By Julio P. Yap, Jr.

It will be a sweet victory for Filipino farmers once House Bill (HB) 6380—which considers large-scale agricultural smuggling as economic sabotage, with perpetrators facing stiff charges—is approved by Congress.

The House Committee on Ways and Means has already endorsed, for plenary approval, the bill. Under it, large-scale agricultural smuggling shall be punishable by life imprisonment.

To Protect the Agricultural Sector and Farmers

This welcome development came after the committee chaired by Rep. Romero S. Quimbo (Second District, Marikina City) approved HB 6380 or the proposed “Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act,” which declares that it is the policy of the State to promote the productivity of the agriculture sector and to protect farmers from unscrupulous traders and importers who, by their illegal importation of agricultural products—especially rice—significantly affect the production, availability of supply and stability of prices, and the food security of the country.

The State shall also impose higher sanctions on large-scale smuggling of agricultural products as a measure to shield the agricultural sector from the manipulation of economic saboteurs, and to protect the livelihood of farmers and ensure their economic well-being.

Over the past years, Filipino farmers have suffered tremendously due to the rampant smuggling of agricultural products like rice, corn, garlic, pork, and chicken, among many other prime commodities.

The bill defines economic sabotage as “any act or activity which undermines, weakens or renders into disrepute the economic system or viability of the country or tends to bring out such effects and shall include, among others, price manipulation to the prejudice of the public especially in the sale of basic necessities and prime commodities.”

Under agricultural products are “any agricultural commodity or product, whether plant-based, animal-based, raw or processed, including any commodity or product derived from livestock that is available for human or livestock consumption. This definition includes fish, forestry, seeds, poultry and dairy products that have undergone various degrees of processing.”

HB 6380 replaced HB 6171, which was authored by Rep. Delphin Gan Lee (Party list, AGRI); HB 6209, authored by Rep. Conrado M. Estrella III (Party list, ABONO); HB 6259 by Quimbo; and HB 6306 by Rep. Mark A. Villar (Lone District, Las Piñas City). Other authors of HB 6380 are Reps. Mylene J. Garcia-Albano, Estrellita B. Suansing, Delphine Gan Lee, Raneo E. Abu, Nicanor M. Briones, Raul Del Mar, Agapito H. Guanlao, Magtanggol T. Gunigundo, Joseller M. Guiao, and Andres D. Salvacion, Jr.

How Smuggling Hurts the Country

Citing a report by the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), Quimbo said that from 2013 to 2014, the government incurred a total of R64 billion in foregone revenues due to the widespread smuggling of agricultural products.

“This amount represents [losses of Php32 billion] per year, which could have been used for the construction of approximately 21,000 classrooms, or 2,600 health centers. In fact, the amount of loss reported for these two years is more than enough to cover the budget of the Department of Agriculture (DA) for 2016, and with an excess sufficient to help rehabilitate our agricultural sector,” said Quimbo.

With the adverse effects of agricultural smuggling on the government budget, food security, poverty alleviation, and its connection to all other national concerns, there is thus the need to strengthen laws to deter its commission.

 

Coverage and Penalties

Covered under the bill are sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish, and cruciferous vegetables, whether in their raw state, or after undergoing the simple processes of preparation or preservation for the market, with a minimum amount of Php1 million, or rice with a minimum amount of Php10 million, as valued by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) is deemed committed through the following acts:

(a.) Importing or bringing into the country without the required import permit from the regulatory agencies;

(b.) Using import permits of persons, natural, juridical or entities without juridical personality other than those specifically named in the permit;

(c.) Using fake, fictitious or fraudulent import permits or shipping documents, names of natural or juridical persons or entities without juridical personality, and addresses of consignee;

(d.) Selling, lending, leasing, assigning, consenting or allowing the use of import permits of corporations, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), associations, cooperatives, or single proprietorships by other persons;

(e.) Misclassification, undervaluation or misdeclaration upon the filing of import entry and revenue declaration with the BOC to evade the payment of rightful taxes and duties due to the government;

(f.) Organizing or using corporations, NGOs, cooperatives, single proprietorships to acquire import permits;

(g.) Transporting or storing the agricultural product subject to economic sabotage regardless of quantity; or

(h.) Acting as broker of the violating importer.

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The bill provides that any person who commits any of these acts shall be penalized with life imprisonment and pay a fine of twice the fair value of the smuggled agricultural product in the above mentioned kind and value, and the aggregate amount of the taxes, duties and other charges legally due on the said smuggled agricultural product.

The bill also provides for a penalty of 17 to 20 years of imprisonment, and a fine of twice the fair value of the smuggled agricultural products and the aggregate amount of taxes, duties and other charges avoided, to the officers of dummy corporations and other entities who knowingly sell, lend, lease, assign, consent or allow the unauthorized use of their import permits for purposes of smuggling.

On the other hand, imprisonment of 14 to 17 years and a fine equal to the fair value of the smuggled agricultural product and the aggregate amount of taxes, duties, and other charges avoided shall be imposed on the registered owner and its lessee of boats, vessels, trucks, vans and other means of transportation used in the transport of smuggled agricultural products subject to economic sabotage.

The same penalty awaits the owner and lessee of a warehouse or property who knowingly stores the smuggled agricultural product.

The same penalty shall also be imposed on the registered owner, lessee, president, or chief executive officer of the private port, fish port, fish landing sites, resorts, airports, who knowingly allow agricultural smuggling.

If the offender is a government official or employee, the penalty shall be the maximum as hereinabove prescribed and the offender shall suffer an additional penalty of perpetual disqualification from public office, to vote, and to participate in any public election.

This appeared as “A Sweet Victory for Filipino Farmers” in Agriculture Monthly’s April 2016 issue.