By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — As smuggled vegetables from China continue to flood the
Philippine market, Senator Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan calls for an
inquiry into their proliferation that dangerously exposes consumers
and farmers to unchecked plant diseases.
“Smuggled agricultural produce may contain invasive pests and host
various diseases. The exposure of other food products to these goods
poses a serious threat to the health of our people, the productivity
of the agriculture sector, and our country’s food security. As an
example, smuggled pork from China was the culprit behind the recent
outbreak of African Swine Fever in the country,” he said in Proposed
Senate Resolution 922.
Citing Republic Act 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of
2016, Pangilinan calls on the government to perform its duty to
protect the agriculture sector, the local farmers, and the public from
the manipulative schemes of economic saboteurs.
“This is alarming and needs immediate action. From PPEs, testing kits,
and face shields to even vegetables, why are the imported favored and
why are our own not prioritized,” asked Pangilinan.
According to the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), the
agriculture sector suffered the biggest job losses. Of the 3.4 million
Filipinos who lost their jobs in June this year, about 1.7 million
were farmers and fisherfolk.
“Our farmers work hard but their income fell further due to the
pandemic. They were tested by rice tariffication, African swine
fever, and typhoons. Now it’s smuggled vegetables. Our farmers can
barely breathe and stand up,” Pangilinan said.
Augusta Balanoy of the Highland Vegetable Multipurpose Cooperative
said that a large volume of carrots was spotted in key markets in the
country. She said their counterparts in Cebu had alerted them that
four container vans filled with carrots from China have been
distributed in their markets on a weekly basis.
In its investigation, Balanoy’s group found that small warehouses near
Divisoria in Manila have been releasing imported vegetables to Metro
Manila markets whenever prices of Benguet vegetables rise.
Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary William Dar said in a Zoom
meeting that the smuggled carrots and cabbage from China had entered
the market via Subic Port.
The Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) said it did not issue import
permits for these products as the shipments have been misdeclared as
Dar said BPI issues import permits only for frozen mixed vegetables
and processed vegetables “intended for embassies and hotels.”
The flood of cheap, smuggled carrots has resulted in drastic drops in
orders from local farmers, causing further distress in the sector in
the middle of the pandemic.
Pangilinan, who was former food security secretary, noted that as no
import permit or sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances were
issued, the smuggled vegetables may pose health hazards to consumers.
He said it might contain uncertain levels of pesticide and formalin
that may be harmful when consumed.
“I was told that the average price of imported carrots is at half the
selling price of local produce. Cheap but potentially poisonous,” he
“Our food producers who have barely survived are once again pummeled
by this form of unfair competition,” he added.
Pangilinan is also the author of Republic Act 11321 or the Sagip Saka
Law, which aims to put healthy food on every Filipino family’s dining
table by making agriculture more productive and profitable for
Filipino farmers and fisherfolk.
“High importation lowers our own farmers’ incomes. When these losses
force them to another job, food prices will go up. We will become
dependent on other countries for food,” he said.
“ Let us support our local producers. Buy from them. And when they are
earning, they will be more motivated to plant more. And with more
harvests, supply of food will increase. And when this happens, food
will become more affordable. But the first step is to support them,”
he added. (ai/mtvn)