Lacson scolds agri execs for allowing food imports that are ‘killing’ local farmers
MANILA, Philippines — “Why are you killing your fellow Filipinos?”
Sen. Panfilo Lacson posed this question to agriculture officials at a Senate inquiry on Tuesday as he scolded them for allowing the “invasion” of the country by Korean strawberries and vegetables at the expense of local farmers.
“We are killing the local industry. Why import strawberries and carrots when we have strawberries and carrots here? I think your commitment to your fellow Filipinos should be more important than your commitment with importers,” Lacson said, addressing the Bureau of Plant Industry, which is under the Department of Agriculture’s (DA).
Fruits declared as ‘ornamental plants’
Senators conducted the inquiry after a representative of a Benguet farmers’ group raised to them the problems caused by “smuggled” strawberries declared as “ornamental plants” and vegetables from other countries.
Agot Balanoy, public relations officer of the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Areas, said these “smuggled” products not only negatively impact local farmers but are also feared to be unsafe due to a lack of pest risk analysis at the borders.
“In Benguet alone, we have 130,000 farmers who depend on agriculture, who depend on farming for their meager income,” she said, speaking in a mix of Filipino and English. “Now, if we don’t help these farmers, where will they get their income?”
She noted that farmers in Benguet and other parts of the Cordillera region supply 1.5 million kilograms of assorted vegetables to key markets in the Philippines daily.
“With this entry of smuggled goods, there are no orders for our vegetables here. The prices drop,” she said.
She particularly mentioned carrots and cabbages allegedly smuggled from China and Korean strawberries declared as “ornamental plants,” which she said continued to flood the markets.
READ: Smuggled carrots flooding markets alarm Benguet farmers
“Of late, we have Korean strawberries arriving in Cebu, and we have learned that weekly there will be two container vans of strawberries arriving in Cebu,” she said, noting each container van is presumed to carry 25,000 kilograms of produce.
“We are wondering why the Department of Agriculture, through BPI, allowed this — because they have a permit. But their permit is for ornamental plants. Strawberries, according to our agriculturist here, are not ornamental plants,” Balanoy added.
“That is misdeclaration. Misdeclaration is a form of smuggling,” she stressed.
According to Balanoy, farmers are also “dismayed” over the failure to identify the smugglers of these products and their “protectors.”
“Why can we not identify the smugglers themselves? The protectors? They are so bold,” she added.
According to an official of the DA, the department is equally concerned about the issue of smuggling in the country.
“Smuggling is economic sabotage and this is hurting our farmers and fisherfolks. The Department of Agriculture has been looking into this issue and we have set up certain measures to curb smuggling,” DA Undersecretary for Regulations Zamzamin Ampatuan told senators.
“The basic concern of the DA is to ensure that these foods are safe and that they follow sanitary and phytosanitary standards, which is the basis for allowing import,” he added.
Bureau of Customs (BOC) Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero, for his part, said a total of 55 criminal complaints had been filed by his bureau in the last three years against personalities over alleged smuggling — with 29 of those complaints filed in 2021.
Further, Guerrero said the BOC undertook 172 apprehensions of smuggled agricultural products this year.
“Our border protection and anti-smuggling efforts are being implemented through the conduct of intelligence and enforcement operations supported by our risk management system,” he said.
“It involves the examination and inspection of shipments at the ports and raids on warehouses and storage facilities containing smuggled goods,” he added.
Farmers seek gov’t shield vs vegetable smuggling
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