DA pushes 2-pronged approach to curb agri smuggling

DA curbing agri smuggling
From 2019 to 2022, the value of technically smuggled agri-fishery commodities totalled P667.50 million, of which P10 million worth was intercepted. Photo from the Department of Agriculture.
  • The Department of Agriculture eyes intensified border protection and provision of logistics and infrastructure support to farmers to curb agricultural smuggling
  • Agriculture Secretary William Dar warns DA officials and staff of administrative charges and suspension if they connive with illegal importers and smugglers
  • From 2019 to 2022, the value of technically smuggled agri-fishery commodities totalled P667.50 million, of which P10 million worth was intercepted
  • 153 container vans and 5,000 boxes of fishery goods worth P548.5 million were seized last year

The Department of Agriculture has put forward a two-pronged approach to curb agricultural smuggling in the country that involves intensifying border protection and providing logistics and infrastructure support to farmers, the agency said in a statement.

“First, let us continue to intensify our border protection and coordination efforts with the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and other agencies. Kapag may (If there’s) misdeclaration, right there and then, dapat i-hold na agad ang (hold) goods,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said in a recent meeting with DA key officials to address agricultural smuggling.

“Second, we need to continuously provide our farmers with the much-needed logistics and infrastructure support so they could produce more and sell their products with reasonable profit, especially during the peak season when prices are low. With such DA support and assistance, hindi rin sila mapag sasamantalahan ng mga trader (farmers can’t be taken advantage of by traders),” the DA chief added.

Dar also warned erring DA officials and staff that they would face appropriate administrative cases and suspension if found guilty of conniving with illegal importers and smugglers.

“Smugglers usually get away with their crime by passing through legal channels, using technical smuggling schemes, like misdeclaration, undervaluation, or misclassification. Let us strengthen the law by looking at the lapses where we can further improve the system. At the moment, only the BOC has the police power, but we can inspect and recommend to BOC confiscation of smuggled goods,” Dar said.

According to DA Assistant Secretary Federico Laciste Jr. from the DA-Wide Field Inspectorate, technically smuggled agri-fishery commodities from 2019 to 2022 totalled P667.50 million, of which P10 million worth was intercepted during the same period.

In 2021, the Sub-Task Group on Economic Intelligence (STG-EI) also confiscated 153 container vans and 5,000 boxes of fishery products with an estimated value of P548.5 million. This year, P109 million worth of misdeclared vegetables, meat, and fishery products were seized, he said.

The STG-EI, in which Laciste is the alternate chair, is an integrated regulatory enforcement unit comprising DA, BOC, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), and Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG).

On April 4, 2022, the STG-EI led by the DA-Bureau of Plant and Industry, confiscated 46 boxes of smuggled carrots and broccoli being sold at Divisoria Market.

The smuggled vegetables were seized by BPI for infringement of the Food Safety Act of 2013. Laciste said BOC is investigating further to buildup a case against the identified owners of the contraband for violating the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.

Laciste said the STG-EI and BOC have been conducting surprise inspections to prevent the proliferation of smuggled vegetables that pose serious public health hazards due to non-compliance with sanitary and phytosanitary measures.

On providing logistical support to local farmers, Dar underscored the need to establish more cold storage facilities to reduce postharvest losses and help farmers recover.

“We need to partner with the local government units and farmers’ cooperatives and associations (FCAs) in putting up more cold storage facilities to maintain the freshness and quality of farm and fishery products and sell them at relatively higher prices,” he said.

Onion farmer groups from Mindoro Occidental have been lamenting that their produce is being sold at bargain prices amid other challenges such as rising fertilizer and oil prices due to the Russia-Ukraine war.

“With more cold storage facilities, we will be able to reduce postharvest losses by at most 35%, this could be added up to our national food supply, bringing down prices for the benefit of millions of Filipinos,” Dar said.

DA-4B (MIMAROPA) director Antonio Gerundio reported that cold storage facilities have been installed to assist onion farmers’ cooperatives and associations in Occidental Mindoro. Each facility can store 20,000 28-kilogram bags. He said a mobile solar-powered cold storage facility will also be operational within the week.

Aside from the two-pronged approach, Laciste recommended in a Senate hearing on March 28 full automation of trade transactions so that imports and exports of agricultural products could be monitored to curb smuggling.

READ: Full automation key to curbing agri poducts smuggling

Laciste admitted that DA’s database is not yet centralized and the department has no way of monitoring agricultural imports that have arrived to check the actual volume against the issued sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances. He said this is why data on agricultural imports between DA and BOC do not tally.