In this file photo, Nabulao, Sipalay farmer Joelito poses with his carabao Delilah, which he fondly calls his faithful partner in life. (Photo: ICRC/Von Gustilo)By Tracy Cabrera
MANILA — Senatorial aspirant Guillermo Lorenzo Tolentino Eleazar on Wednesday criticized agriculture officials for allowing food imports that are quite literally “killing” local farmers. The former Philippine National Police (PNP) chief questioned why imported vegetables, among them carrots, onions, garlic and other staples, are being allowed at the expense of local producers who are now complaining about unfair competition posed by importers. “We are killing the local industry. Why import strawberries and carrots when we have strawberries and carrots here? I think your commitment to your fellow Filipinos should be more important than your commitment with importers,” Eleazar’s partymate and Reporma standard-bearer Ping Lacson said at a Senate hearing attended by executives of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI).
The BPI is under the Department of Agriculture’s (DA).Aside from the problem posed by the influx of imported agri-products, local farmers also complained about smuggled fruits, such as strawberries, declared as ornamental plants and common vegetables.
These are raking in profits because they are sold cheaper in local markets as they enter the country without paying proper tariffs or taxes.
Eleazar noted that not only are imported and smuggled agri products killing the local industry but they may also pose health hazards due to the fact that those that were smuggled into the country may have been produced using harmful chemical fertilizers and also did not undergo pest risk analysis.
“Hindi dapat pinapayagan ang ganitong situwasyon, lalo na dahil nasa krisis tayo sanhi ng pandemya (ng coronavirus) at paghina ng ating ekonomiya habang maraming sa ating mga kababayan ang nahaharap sa lubhang kahirapan. Kailangan umaksyon ang ating pamahalaan sa problemang ito para masagip ang ating mga magsasaka na naghihikahos na dahil sa pagkalugi sanhi ng mga smuggled na mga gulay at prutas,” the country’s former ‘top cop’ pointed out.
Meanwhile, agriculture undersecretary for regulations Zamzamin Ampatuan equally expressed concern over the issue of smuggling of farm produce from neighboring countries, such as Thailand and the foremost Chinese mainland.
“Smuggling is economic sabotage and this is hurting our farmers and fisherfolks. The Department of Agriculture has been looking into this issue and we have set up certain measures to curb smuggling. (Moreover), the basic concern of the DA is to ensure that these foods are safe and that they follow sanitary and phytosanitary standards, which is the basis for allowing import,” Ampatuan enthused.
For his part, Bureau of Customs (BoC) commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero disclosed that they have already filed a total of 55 criminal complaints in the last three years against personalities over alleged smuggling, with 29 of these filed just this year, even as he added that in the past 12 months, the BOC had undertaken 172 apprehensions of smuggled agricultural products.
“Our border protection and anti-smuggling efforts are being implemented through the conduct of intelligence and enforcement operations supported by our risk management system. It involves the examination and inspection of shipments at the ports and raids on warehouses and storage facilities containing smuggled goods,” Guerrero concluded. (ai/mtvn)