DA: 4 Luzon warehouse owners sued for smuggling
MANILA, Philippines — A day after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. highlighted the campaign against smugglers and hoarders in his second State of the Nation Address (Sona), the Department of Agriculture (DA) announced that charges have been filed against the owners of four warehouses in Luzon for storing smuggled farm products.
Senior Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban told reporters on Tuesday that the facilities kept a “big volume” of smuggled sugar, onions, and meat. He declined to disclose the owners’ identities and whereabouts.
“At least one [of the warehouses] delivers supply to the Visayas and Mindanao … We’re not sure whether they’re part of a big syndicate,” he said.
Marcos on Monday stressed in his Sona that the government was tracking down smugglers, hoarders, and price manipulators, who he said were behind unreasonable increases in the prices of agricultural products, particularly onion and sugar.
Farmers’ groups had pointed out, however, that there had been no convictions due to insufficient evidence presented by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) in congressional hearings.
According to Sen. Imee Marcos, vice chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform, only one case against smugglers was filed back in 2016 yet.
She suggested raising penalties against the illegal acts since those imposed under current laws “are really inconsequential relative to the gains made by large-scale agricultural smugglers.”
“We can broaden the scope of the offenses, we can include government employees and other private individuals who are not necessarily covered by the existing law,” Senator Marcos said, adding that she was “certain” there were government officials involved in smuggling operations.
Lawmakers are currently pushing for an amendment to Republic Act No. 10845, or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act, to protect local farmers and consumers from “unfair practices.”
Senator Marcos also cited smuggling as the main reason why the price of onions soared to as much as P700 per kilogram in December last year.
This prompted a series of congressional hearings to investigate cases of hoarding and smuggling in cold storage facilities that were falsely declared full, triggering higher prices of commodities.
For its part, the DA said it needed additional manpower, especially from the BOC, to hasten its investigations.
Panganiban explained that the department was currently focusing on inspecting warehouses and cold storage facilities to assess whether products were smuggled.