The Department of Agriculture (DA) has thrown its support for the Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Act as it sought collaborators in the fight against illegal tobacco trade that costs P25 billion yearly in foregone revenue.
DA Undersecretary Deogracias Victor Savellano said Senate Bill 2432 should be immediately approved to help eliminate illegal trade and smuggling of tobacco and other agricultural produce. Illegal tobacco trade has serious impact on the health of minors.
“It may worsen the country’s problem on smuggling. Illicit tobacco trade reduces the effectiveness of public health policies designed to discourage smoking, with unregulated, substandard quality and non-compliant products. It makes it easier for minors to access tobacco products and undermines the legitimate industry’s business,” according to SB 2432.
The livelihood of thousands of Filipino farmers is adversely affected by illegal agricultural trade.
Among these are farmers belonging to Philippine Tobacco Growers Association (PTGA) and the National Federation of Tobacco Farmers Association and Cooperatives (NAFTAC) which are lobbying for the bill’s passage. PTGA and NAFTAC have a membership base of around 50,000 farmers.
Speaking at the “Anti-Illicit Trade Interagency Dialogue: Protecting National Economic Interests through Greater Synergy and Cooperation,” Savellano said DA needs collaborators in this seemingly unsurmountable task of fighting illegal trade.
“Combating such highly organized crime requires substantial resources, specialized skills, effective inter-agency cooperation which can be difficult to coordinate and sustain,” he said.
“Illicit tobacco trade often involves the movement of products across international borders, making border coordination and cooperation within the country’s jurisdiction essential.”
Adequate investment in training programs, modern technology, and sufficient staffing levels is crucial to enhance the capacity of these agencies to combat illicit trade effectively.
Senator Cynthia Villar, in her sponsorship of the Senate bill, cited Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura or SINAG. The farmers’ group indicated that government loses P200 billion yearly in revenue due to smuggling.
The Senate bill amends the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016 or Republic Act No. 10845.
“With no conviction made seven years after the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act the, law is a failure at the hands of the Bureau of Customs. It’s been seven years and there is not a single conviction,” she said.
“Smuggling brings about unfair competition for locally produced goods because it floods the market of cheaper agricultural products. It puts undue risk to our consumer’s health. It encourages corruption and threatens the rule of law.”
Aside from tobacco, illegal trade involves sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish, and cruciferous vegetables, according to the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture.
The Euromonitor reports that 16.7 percent or about 9.52 billion sticks of the total cigarette volumes sold in the Philippines comes from illegal sources as of 2022.
“Most illicit cigarettes are shipped from Cambodia, Vietnam, and China, and enter through Sulu and Tawi-Tawi,” said Villar in her sponsorship statement.
Illegal trade destroys tobacco industries in in Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra, La Union, Pangasinan, Isabela, Cagayan, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Tarlac and Occidental Mindoro.
It competes with the produce of at least 2.1 million people, including more than 430,000 farmers, farm workers and their family members.