Beyond Buzzwords: Transforming Philippine Agriculture!

Agri chief bats for two-pronged approach to address agri smuggling

Author: DA Communications Group | 7 April 2022

Agriculture Secretary William Dar puts forward a two-pronged approach to curb the illegal entry of agricultural products into the country after assuring the public of zero tolerance on any form of corruption.

“First, let us continue to intensify our border protection and coordination efforts with the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and other agencies. Kapag may misdeclaration, right there and then, dapat i-hold na agad ang goods,” said Secretary Dar, on April 6, 2022, during a meeting with “OneDA” key officials addressing agricultural smuggling.

“Second, we need to continuously provide our farmers with the much-needed logistics and infrastructure support so they could produce more and sell their products with reasonable profit, especially during peak season when prices are low. With such DA support and assistance, hindi rin sila mapagsasamantalahan ng mga trader,” the DA chief added.

“Our unified efforts must not be negated by smuggling. Let it be clear that our goal is to help our farmers and fisherfolk boost their productivity, income, and livelihood,” he said.

He also issued a stern warning to erring DA officials and staff, saying that they will be charged with appropriate administrative case and suspension if found guilty of conniving with illegal importers and smugglers, in general.

“Smugglers usually get away with their crime by passing through legal channels, using technical smuggling schemes, like misdeclaration, undervaluation, or misclassification. Let us strengthen the law by looking at the lapses where we can further improve the system. At the moment, only the BOC has the police power, but we can inspect and recommend to BOC confiscation of smuggled goods,” Secretary Dar said.

For his part, DA Assistant Secretary Federico Laciste, Jr. reported that from 2019 to 2022, the technically-smuggled agri-fishery commodities totaled P667.50 million (M), of which P10M was apprehended in 2019-2020. It was then that Secretary Dar created the Compliance and Regulatory Enforcement for Security and Trade Office (CREST-O), under his supervision.

Laciste currently heads the DA-Wide Field Inspectorate and alternate chair of the Sub-Task Group on Economic Intelligence (STG-EI). The task group is an integrated regulatory enforcement unit composed of the DA, BOC, Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA), and Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG).

In 2021, Laciste said the STG-EI confiscated 153 container vans and 5,000 boxes of fishery products with an estimated value of P548.5M; and this year, P109-M worth of misdeclared vegetables, meat, and fishery products.

On April 4, 2022, the STG-EI, led by DA-Bureau of Plant and Industry (BPI), confiscated 46 boxes of smuggled carrots and broccoli being sold at Divisoria Market. The smuggled vegetables were confiscated by DA-BPI for infringement of the Food Safety Act of 2013. Laciste said the BOC is conducting further investigation for case build-up against the identified owners for violating the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.

“The STG-EI and BOC have been conducting surprise inspection operations to prevent the proliferation of smuggled vegetables that pose serious public health hazards due to non-compliance with sanitary and phytosanitary measures,” said Laciste.

On providing logistic support to local farmers, Secretary Dar underscored the need to establish more cold storage facilities to reduce postharvest losses and help farmers recover.

“We need to partner with the local government units and farmers’ cooperatives and associations (FCAs) in putting up more cold storage facilities to maintain the freshness and quality of farm and fishery products and sell them at relatively higher prices,” he said.

Onion farmers groups from Mindoro Occidental have been lamenting over their produce that is being sold at bargain prices. This is amid other challenges such as the rising fertilizer and oil prices following Russia-Ukraine crisis.

“With more cold storage facilities, we will be able to reduce postharvest losses by at most 35 percent, this could be added up to our national food supply, bringing down prices for the benefit of millions of Filipinos,” he said.

For his part, director Antonio Gerundio of  DA-4B (MIMAROPA) reported that cold storage facilities have been installed to assist onion farmers’ cooperatives and associations in Occidental Mindoro. Each facility can store 20,000 28-kg bags. He said a mobile solar-powered cold storage facility will also be operational within the week. “We are also encouraging our onion farmers to sell their products directly through our Kadiwa outlets since we have been providing them through their FCAs with hauling trucks,” concluded Secretary Dar. ### (Rita dela Cruz, DA-StratComms)

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