Farmers based in Trinidad, Benguet told the Senate Monday they are losing P2.5 million daily because of the entry of smuggled carrots.
Appearing before the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing on the rampant smuggling of agricultural products, Agot Balanoy, public relations officer of the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Areas, said since July last year, they have been complaining about smuggled vegetables from China that have hurt their sales.
Balanoy estimated their orders from key markets dropped 40 percent or the equivalent of P2.5 million a day.
From August to December 2021, the price of carrots showed a wide range, from a low of P7 to a high of P95 a kilo.
“Why do we have P95 kilo? We have this high price if there are no smuggled carrots. If the price is P7 it means there are a lot of smuggled carrots being sold in the market,” Balanoy said.
She said the price declines were so steep that some farmers have been distributing the carrots for free—even though it costs them about P25 to produce a kilo.
Senator Panfilo Lacson quizzed officials from the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Customs about the massive smuggling of vegetables and other agricultural products.
“How could you explain the proliferation of smuggled carrots, vegetables, and meat products in the market? It’s really difficult to reconcile. It’s hard to get [import] accreditation and registration … [so] why the rampant smuggling?”
Agriculture Assistant Secretary Federico Laciate Jr. said they needed automation to thwart the smugglers.
He noted there were discrepancies in the data of imported agricultural products because there is no centralized database system where they can monitor the actual import volume in real time.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, asked why no charges have been filed against smugglers.
Vincent Maronilla of the Bureau of Customs cited the lack of other documents for the filing of charges.
At the same hearing, farmers said buyers seemed to prefer the smuggled carrots because they had a longer shelf life and could be stored for up to two months, unlike the local varieties that can go bad in two to three days.
Sotto said this might be because the carrots from China contain chemicals like formalin to extend their shelf life.
At the same time, Lacson said citizens can play a role in curbing agricultural smuggling by making “citizens’ arrests” of those selling smuggled vegetables in the open market by applying the “plain view doctrine.”
“If you see that the vegetables are obviously smuggled, there’s such a thing as citizens arrest. Any citizen can seize the items and they can seek assistance from law enforcement to do so,” Lacson said.
He said this approach is similar to the one he adopted against illegal drugs and carnapping when he headed the Philippine National Police from 1999 to 2001. This helped bring down criminality including carnapping and illegal drugs.
Lacson said such demand reduction is half of the strategy, with the other half being supply reduction where authorities can seize smuggled vegetables before they leave the Customs facilities.
He challenged the DA and Bureau of Customs to find ways to stop agricultural smuggling, which he said continues despite having supposedly stringent requirements for importers of agricultural products.
Lacson cited information reaching him that some importers found engaged in smuggling are blacklisted but merely changed their names and were accredited again.
Vice presidential candidate Senator Francis Pangilinan said “untouchables” were behind the large-scale food smuggling that was
At the continuation of the investigation by the Senate Committee of the Whole on the issue, Pangilinan said the government should go after these untouchables as they are lining their pockets at the expense and safety of the Filipino people.
He said these untouchables apparently had a firm grip on the relevant government agencies that were supposed to stop the smuggling.