THE Departments of Agriculture (DA) and Trade and Industry (DTI) need to be authorized to confiscate smuggled goods, a Senator said on Wednesday.
“A new law is needed if we want to empower the DA and DTI to confiscate smuggled items,” Senator Aquilino Martin L. Pimentel III, who chairs the chamber’s committee on Trade, Commerce and Entrepreneurship, said in a Viber message.
During an earlier hearing on agricultural smuggling, both departments had asked for greater control over agricultural products since they are currently only allowed to inspect items in public markets but not verify whether they were imported legally.
Mr. Pimentel noted that although the current law allows the Bureau of Customs (BoC) to apprehend smuggled items, their implementation is lacking.
“Customs must intensify its law enforcement powers in pursuing smuggled items,” he said.
The La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Areas, the largest agriculture organization in Benguet with about 10,000 members, said in a statement at the weekend that vegetable farmers are losing an average of P2.5 million a day with daily orders declining by up to 40% due to the influx of smuggled vegetables.
Agriculture Assistant Secretary Federico E. Laciste, Jr. has alleged that some politicians have blocked the filing of charges against smugglers of farm goods. He did not identify them.
“We have a situation where agencies take no action even when smuggling is brazenly committed. So aside from the fact that the BoC and the DA have been compromised, there are untouchables,” Senator Francis Pancratius N. Pangilinan said.
In a statement on Monday, Agriculture Secretary William D. Dar said DA personnel who participate in such arrangements will be punished according to the law.
“We condemn whoever these personalities are, and we at the Department of Agriculture will act swiftly and decisively to reprimand those involved among our ranks, officials and staff. If found guilty, we will file the appropriate administrative charges against these individuals,” he said.
Mr. Pimentel said the current system has sufficient tools to penalize politicians who facilitate smuggling; however, “the problem is nobody complains.” — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan