MANILA – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) is ready to work with other government agencies and the private sector in efficiently enforcing the Republic Act (RA) 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.
During a public hearing conducted by the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform on Thursday, BOC Assistant Commissioner Vincent Philip Maronilla assured that Commissioner Bienvenido Rubio is committed to eradicating agricultural smuggling in the country.
“Meron lang po talaga siyang executive committee meeting sa Department of Finance. Kung wala po, talagang gusto niyang magpakita dito sa komiteng ito para makapagpaliwanag din at nagko-commit po siya na makikipagtulungan po siya sa komite na to (He is just in an executive committee meeting with the Department of Finance. Otherwise, he really wants to be here to explain and he is committed to work with this committee),” Maronilla said.
“Kung meron man pong kailangang baguhin sa amin para tulong-tulong po tayong repasuhin itong sinasabing loopholes na nanggagaling sa mga opisina po namin (If something must be changed on our part, we can help each other in addressing these loopholes coming from our office).”
Maronilla made the assurance after Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) chairperson Rosendo So raised the “vast involvement” of the BOC in the dismissal of cases relating to agricultural smuggling.
So told the committee that the value of smuggled goods seized by the BOC usually drops so it would not qualify for economic sabotage.
According to RA 10845, large-scale agricultural smuggling qualifies as economic sabotage if it costs at least PHP1 million or at least PHP10 million for rice, as valued by the BOC.
Another concern So brought up is the neglect of some Customs officers to participate in the progress of cases filed against agricultural smugglers.
“Kapag [naihain] naman sa DOJ [Department of Justice] at ang witness is Customs, hindi naman humaharap or nagbibigay ng dokumento. So yung mga cases na nadi-dismiss, yung sa ibang hearing, yun yung mga naririnig natin na nadi-dismiss yung kaso dahil hindi pumupunta yung Customs official or dokumento kulang-kulang na binibigay (If filed with the DOJ and the witness is from Customs, they don’t attend or provide the documents. So the cases are dismissed because the Customs official does not attend the hearing or the documents provided are incomplete),” he said.
Maronilla responded by assuring that Rubio already ordered the review of pending agricultural smuggling cases in the BOC.
“In fact, nakipagpulong na rin po kami kay Secretary Remulla ng [DOJ] para repasuhin ito pong sinasabi ng ating mga kaibigan na mga loopholes po sa mga kaso namin at magko-commit po kami na kung meron pong kamalian yung mga abogado namin, tao namin dito at napatunayan to, hindi po mag-aatubili ang commissioner ng Customs natin ngayon na panagutin ang mga taong ito (We already met with Justice Secretary Remulla to address these loopholes that our friends are saying and we commit that if it is proven that our lawyers or our people caused the lapses, they would be held accountable by our Customs commissioner),” he said.
The Customs official reported to the committee that from 2018, the BOC was able to file 179 large-scale agricultural smuggling cases, which is worth roughly PHP1.4 billion, 37 of which were not considered large-scale.
Meanwhile, Maronilla recommended to the committee a standardized evaluation for filing cases, saying that under the current law, the value of goods is at the discretion of BOC examiners, which is prone to loopholes.
“Kung meron po tayong sinusunod na batas na andun na yung value na susundin kada kilo ng isang produkto, wala pong discretion yung ating mga opisyales (If we have a law that states the value per kg. of products as basis, our officials would no longer have the discretion),” he said.
Maronilla also pushed for the establishment of first border examination areas where various government agencies could work together in guarding and examining the entry of different products.
The committee, which is chaired by Senator Cynthia Villar, seeks to amend certain sections of RA 10845 to include the acts of hoarding, profiteering, and cartel of agricultural products as economic sabotage.
The law was enacted to protect local agricultural industry and farmers from agricultural smuggling. (PNA)