Customs Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz has given assurance that his agency remains committed to the directive of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to protect the country’s borders against smuggling, especially of agricultural products.
Meanwhile, amid mounting complaints from consumers, industry associations and some non-government organizations against the Department of Agriculture (DA), a group based in Central Luzon offered to help the national government achieve food security.
Ruiz made the assurance following the seizure of P9.49 million worth of red onions being smuggled into the country aboard two vessels intercepted off Zamboanga City.
“Onions are being sold at higher prices in our local markets. This should not have been a predicament for an agricultural country like us. The more empowered these people feel about smuggling these products, the more our economy will suffer. So, we cannot let that happen because the people will be the most affected,” Ruiz stressed.
On Jan. 22, Customs operatives at the Port of Zamboanga intercepted the wooden vessel “Timzzan” and seized 1,624 mesh bags of imported red onions worth more than P2.5 million off Barangay Labuan.
Another vessel, “MJ Marissa”, was also flagged the following day at Varadero de Cawit in Barangay Cawit, and Customs agents confiscated 4,308 bags of red onions worth more than P6.8 million found aboard the boat.
Investigation showed that the shipments have no Sanitary and Phytosanitary Import Clearance from the Department of Agriculture (DA) – Bureau of Plant Industry.
The importations also violated Section 1401 of Republic Act 10863, otherwise known as the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act of 2016.
The seized onions were turned over to the DA and transported to its Research Center in Barangay Talisayan, Zamboanga City prior to proper disposal.
The operations followed the order of Commissioner Ruiz to ensure effective coordination and collaboration with other border enforcement agencies.
Ruiz commended the Port of Zamboanga for its successful operation.
Port officials, for their part, said they will continue to boost their efforts to curb smuggling.
In a statement, the Central Luzon based group which called itself the AGILA (Agricultural Growth through Inclusivity and Leadership by the Private Sector for Acceleration of Modernization and Industrialization), identified the current problems of the agricultural industry. The group specifically cited the drawback in logistics owing to the country’s being composed of more than seven thousand islands, the continuous increase in population, and the effects of climate change.
AGILA president Jerry Pelayo, formerly mayor of Candaba, Pampanga, said agricultural importation must all be government-to-government deals, and all transactions must be published for transparency.
AGILA described itself as a non-government organization composed of experts from the academe, scientists, seasoned farmers, local leaders, former government officials, and stakeholders that aims to promote inclusive agricultural growth through clean modernization and industrialization.
Pelayo also said AGILA asserts its support to the DA under the Marcos administration by complementing their own initiatives to that of the programs and plans of the national government.
“Our group is willing to guide the LGUs and lead the farmers to gain more knowledge including financial literacy, and let them identify every community’s agricultural requirements, and we help by letting our local farmers plant what is only needed, thereby diminishing oversupply and irregular price of fresh produce,” Pelayo said.
The group also suggested the creation of a monitoring board in order to efficiently keep an eye on the imports and avoid the hoarding of goods. Pelayo also cited the need for the DA to have police powers to go after the smugglers.
Pelayo raised the importance for the DA to compute the total production of commodities like rice, livestock, and other fresh produce, and compare the data to the national average consumption every year.
“There is also a need to tap the state agricultural universities and colleges in our country to help address the anticipated agricultural setback in the future,” he added.
Pelayo revealed that AGILA has taken the initiative to formalize a memorandum of agreement between one local government in Metro Manila and a group of local farmers in Bataan, Pampanga and Nueva Ecija to plant according to the demands of the consumers.
“This way, farmers will have a direct market to avoid going through middlemen, hence maintaining a fairly reasonable price to the public consumers,” he said.