NO major smuggling cases have been prosecuted successfully since 2016, Senators said at a committee hearing, which was told that more than 20 major smuggling operations are currently active.
Senator Cynthia A. Villar, author of Republic Act (RA) 10845, which classified large-scale smuggling of agricultural products as economic sabotage, said she is not aware of any important smugglers being imprisoned.
“No one has been jailed… but I have been seeing (the Bureau of Customs’) press releases on those captured,” she said, noting that seizures of up to P10 million are a “normal occurrence.”
Ms. Villar, who chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, said the smuggling of vegetables and other agricultural products continues unabated.
RA 10845 permits no bail for the offense of smuggling agricultural products in their raw state, or those products that have undergone simple processing or preservation. The no-bail rule applies to shipments valued at P1 million for most farm items. For rice the threshold is P10 million.
“There’s something wrong with the implementation of the law,” Ms. Villar added.
The Bureau of Customs (BoC) reported at the hearing that it has filed 103 cases of agricultural smuggling between 2016 and March 2022, with the shipments valued at P1.35 billion.
Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Charlie L. Guhit of the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) National Prosecution Service said that DoJ has itself filed four smuggling cases and is awaiting court rulings.
“Insofar as imprisonment is concerned, the accused will be imprisoned if there is a determination by the court that the accused is guilty beyond reasonable doubt and based on our data, with respect to the four reported cases, some of which are still pending reinvestigation or arraignment,” he said, adding that “no incarcerations” have resulted from the prosecutions as yet.
“It’s very frustrating,” Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III said, that not a single smuggler or protector of smugglers has been convicted in six years.
National Intelligence Coordinating Agency Director Edsel T. Batalla confirmed the names of major smugglers Mr. Sotto had read out at the hearing, said to be operating at the Manila International Container Port Subic, Cagayan de Oro, and Batangas.
Mr. Batalla said the agency maintains a list of 20 major smugglers, including the names read out by Mr. Sotto. Mr. Batalla said at least five names on the list were government officials suspected of protecting smugglers.
Mr. Batalla called his information the preliminary finding of the Sub Task Group on Economic Intelligence which needed to be validated.
He said other names remain classified.
Trade Undersecretary Ruth B. Castelo said her department is seeking the assistance of the BoC in charging smugglers, as the department is not authorized to proceed with prosecutions. She reiterated the need for interagency cooperation.
“Since the inception of the Sub Task Group on Economic Intelligence (in) February of 2021, we have uncovered a total value of P121 million in misdeclared and undervalued rice,” she said.
“The total value of confiscated products under the operations of the Sub Task Group on Economic Intelligence is more than P600 million from February last year to date,” she added.
Former Party-list Representative Nicanor Briones of the Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines also noted the lack of results from prosecutions.
“It’s easy to file cases, but if nothing comes out of it, it’s useless,” he added. “When there are no results, people from the agricultural sector lose hope and trust.” He said the average age of a Filipino farmer is 60, and smuggling is making it harder to attract younger people to take up farming. — Alyssa Nicole O. Tan