Senator says agri products smuggling alarming
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY—The smuggling of agricultural products has reached what a senator said was alarming levels as cold storage facilities that would have helped farmers earn more are being used for smuggling instead.
Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said smugglers have resorted to using cold storage facilities to hide untaxed agriculture produce and keep these from rotting.
Villar said some cold storage facility owners are in collusion with smugglers which makes it more difficult for farmers to sell their produce at competitive prices.
Speaking to members and officers of the Cold Chain Association of the Philippines (CCAP) in a recent forum here, Villar said millions of pesos worth of produce harvested by Philippine farmers have gone to waste because of the refusal of some cold storage facility owners to accommodate local produce.
As she went around the country inquiring about rampant smuggling, Villar said she found that “smugglers are using cold storage facilities to carry out their illegal trade.”
“We were informed that there are smugglers who pay cold storage facilities in the provinces not to accept crops or harvest of farmers or farmers’ groups and cooperatives so their produce will rot,” she said.
“Of course, when the local produce rot, the imported ones will be sold, including those that are smuggled,” she added.
To validate these reports, Villar said her committee inspected some cold storage facilities “and we discovered that they were empty.”
“When they refused to store crops, they said the cold storage facilities were full,” she said.
Republic Act No. 10845, authored by Villar, has declared large-scale agriculture smuggling as an act of economic sabotage.
Under the law, for smuggling to be classified as economic sabotage, a heinous crime, the amount of smuggled agricultural products should be at least P1 million.
Violators face a penalty of life imprisonment and a fine equivalent to twice the fair value of the smuggled agricultural products and the aggregate amount of taxes, duties and other fees evaded by the smuggler.
In her message to CCAP, Villar said while she does not want cold storage facility owners “to be dragged in the smuggling issue,” the group should police its ranks.
“It has to stop once and for all,” said Villar. “Smuggling is one of the main reasons our farmers are suffering. Farmers and fishermen are still the poorest sectors in our country,” she said.
CCAP president Anthony Dizon, however, said members of his group are all law abiding.
Dizon said Villar is referring to cold storage facility owners who are not members of the group.
“She was referring to a particular industry sector,” said Dizon. “The owners of those facilities mentioned [by Villar] are not members [of CCAP],” he said.
“I think at this point, I can vouch for the integrity of our members,” he said.