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Sunday, December 3, 2023

Tougher sanctions on agri smugglers

Are the days of smugglers and hoarders of agricultural crops numbered?

That’s a likely possibility with the recent move of the Marcos administration to certify as urgent a Senate bill imposing more severe sanctions for agricultural hoarding and smuggling.

Senate Bill 2432 or the “Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Act” seeks to repeal Republic Act 10845, or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.

The President cited the need to facilitate the passage of this piece of legislation as “imperative” since the country is “beset by rising prices and shortages in agricultural products, partly due to the nefarious acts of smuggling, hoarding, profiteeríng, and cartel.”

The bill is important as it also seeks to promote the productivity of farmers and protect them from unscrupulous traders and importers.

The President’s move followed the recent seizure by the Bureau of Customs of over 40,000 bags of imported rice worth P42 million in the Port of Zamboanga City.

According to the Bureau of Customs-Port of Zamboanga, they followed the express directive of the President under Executive Order 39, which put a price cap on rice and which authorized intensified efforts to combat smugglers and price manipulators.

The BOC recommended donating the seized rice imports to the government.

The Department of Social Work and Development immediately distributed the confiscated rice to the poor and the needy. This was a good move on the part of the national government.

The confiscated bags of imported rice were seized by Customs because of disparities between the actual seized goods and the descriptions provided in the submitted documents.

The warehouse also lacked the necessary Sanitary and Phytosanitary Import Clearance from the Bureau of Plant Industry.

The seizure of smuggled rice by the Bureau of Customs is allowed under the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, Rice Tariffication Law, and Republic Act 10845, or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.

The BOC has vowed to conduct more inspections of warehouses following the presidential move to address hoarding and illegal rice importation. In late August, the BOC raided three warehouses in Bulacan reportedly storing smuggled rice worth over P500 million.

Early this year, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, claimed that a syndicate led by Chinese nationals is behind the smuggling of agricultural products into the country, and vowed to focus on the committee’s oversight functions by launching a crackdown on the ‘mafia’.

But it seems that smuggling of rice and other agricultural commodities still goes on unabated.

This only goes to show that harsher penalties for those involved in smuggling and hoarding—or what amounts to economic sabotage— could make the smugglers and hoarders think twice about continuing with their nefarious trade.

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