MANILA - Several senators on Friday urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to boost its campaign against the smuggling of meat products in the Philippines, saying some traders have come up with schemes to slip illegal products into groceries.
Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri told DA officials that smugglers have been "mixing" choice cut meats with "mechanically deboned chicken" to skirt taxes in shipping these products to the country.
"These smuggled products bypass taxes, tariffs, and duties," Zubiri said during the DA's budget hearing in the Senate.
"These illegal imports crowd out our local products... In the end, 'yung poultry producers po natin, 'yung hog producers are prevented from selling larger volumes to household consumers," he said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan raised the continuous smuggling of rice despite the passage of the Rice Tariffication Law, which removed the cap on the volume of foreign rice brought to the country.
"Nangyayari 'yan kasi 'yung mga cooperatives naaanggihan," he said, referring to some traders who use farmer groups as dummies in importing rice.
(It happens because some cooperatives also profit from it.)
Senators Nancy Binay and Christopher "Bong" Go urged Agriculture Secretary William Dar to file charges against smugglers to remind unscrupulous groups that the government is serious in its campaign against illegal imports.
"Ang isang problema din kasi hanggang ngayon wala pa ring napapakulong na big time smuggler kaya siguro talagang hindi sila natatakot dahil alam nila they can get away with it," Binay said.
(One problem is that until now, no big time smuggler has been imprisoned so maybe they are not scared because they know that they can get away with it.)
Dar should use the Duterte administration's remaining 1 year and 8 months in office to prove the agency's mettle in going after smugglers, Go said.
"Patunayan mo Secretary Dar... Ubusin mo 'yang mga 'yan," he said.
(Prove it to them, Secretary Dar... Eliminate them all.)
Dar said he does not have a "bullet answer for technical smuggling," but raised the idea of giving intelligence funds for the DA.
"Kung ibibigay naman lahat ng arrival manifest ay magagampanan namin. Mai-inspect lahat 'yan, mas lalo na 'yung may import clearances. Ang mahirap 'yung walang dokumento," he said.
(If all arrival manifests are submitted, we can address it. We can inspect all of it, especially those with import clearances. What gives us a hard time are those without documents.)
Senate Committee on Agriculture chair Sen. Cynthia Villar said the panel is not inclined to raise the DA's budget for the suggested intelligence funds for the agency.
"It’s the way you use your budget. Are you using your budget efficiently? That’s the question," she said.
Dar assured the committee that he would allocate a portion of the DA's proposed P86.3-billion 2021 budget to increase the agency's efforts against smuggling.
"Ang equally important na partner po natin ay ang (our equally important partner is the) Bureau of Customs. 'Yun po dapat, tulung-tulong po kami lahat (It should be a collective effort)," Dar said.