BOC, DA say digitalization to address smuggling

By Wilnard Bacelonia

March 28, 2022, 7:07 pm

<p><strong>SENATE PROBE.</strong> Senate President Vicente Sotto III asks questions during the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing on the smuggled agricultural products on Monday (March 28, 2022). Bureau of Customs Assistant Commissioner Vincent Maronilla and Agriculture Assistant Secretary Federico Laciste Jr. attended the second hearing. <em>(Screengrab from Senate hearing)</em></p>

SENATE PROBE. Senate President Vicente Sotto III asks questions during the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing on the smuggled agricultural products on Monday (March 28, 2022). Bureau of Customs Assistant Commissioner Vincent Maronilla and Agriculture Assistant Secretary Federico Laciste Jr. attended the second hearing. (Screengrab from Senate hearing)

MANILA – The Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) agreed that digitalization of their system would boost the government's fight against the smuggling of agricultural products in the country.

This, after Senate President Vicente Sotto III during the Senate Committee of the Whole public hearing on Monday noticed inconsistencies in the government’s records of imported agricultural products.

"To make things worse, efforts made on contacting some of the operations against smugglers were put to naught as cases have not yet been filed. What are the BOC and DA doing about these inconsistencies?," Sotto said.

BOC Assistant Commissioner Vincent Maronilla said the discrepancy in the data presented by both agencies was due to different data references.

"As for the Bureau of Customs, our data is based on actual import volumes, and we want to verify with the Department of Agriculture if the same is the basis for the data they presented or is it based on actual import permits that were issued but disregarded whether these import permits were actually used. But as far as the bureau is concerned, these are data coming from actual importations and we think there lies the discrepancy," he said.

Maronilla said the BoC is now working with the World Bank for its major automation project -- the Philippine Customs Modernization Project.

"At this point, initial procurement of the initial stage of the Philippine Customs Modernization Project is already underway. Hopefully, after that, we will be able to start with the procurement process of the Customs Processing System which will replace our current system and will modernize it at par with other international standards together with the World Bank," he said.

He said BOC has already automated its clearance system in terms of its customer portal system, giving the public an option to transact with the agency online.

The bureau, he said, has also established an e-track system to monitor shipments entering the country via a global positioning system.

Meanwhile, Assistant Secretary for the DA-Wide Field Inspectorate Federico Laciste Jr. told the committee that their data is not in accordance with the data gathered by BOC because they lag in monitoring smuggled agricultural products.

"Pertaining to that discrepancy, our database is not yet centralized. If we have automation, not only centralized databases but also import processes, request for inspection, we will have better monitoring," he said.

Sotto said all the concerned government agencies should have the authority and capacity to effectively address smuggling in the country.

"Kung kinakailangan po, lahat sana sila may kapangyarihan na kumpiskahin agad-agad itong mga laganap na kontrabando. Sa ganoong paraan, mabilis nating matulungan yung ating mga nanghihinang, naghihingalo na mga magsasaka. (If needed, all of them should have the power to immediately confiscate these contrabands. In that way, we can help our local farmers),” he said.

Smuggling affects Benguet farmers

In the same Senate inquiry into the smuggling of agricultural products, the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Areas (LALTVTA) said they are losing huge money due to the rampant smuggling of vegetables and fruits in the country.

"Last year, from August to December 2021, the big-sized carrots, the lowest that we have monitored so far is PHP7 per kilo to PHP95. For the medium-sized carrots, if you look at the data, we have at least PHP0 to 50. Zero because if you have seen the social media, there are cases wherein farmers are giving away their product or they throw it away," LALTVA public relations officer Agot Balonoy told the panel.

Balonoy said their regular daily order of carrots declined by up to 40 percent or equivalent to PHP2.5 million per day since last year.

She said retailers and consumers now prefer to buy smuggled carrots from China.

"Mainly because, according to the consumers, the China carrots can be stored for 2 months. While our Benguet carrots are easily destroyed within two to three days," she said.

She said the LALTVTA usually supplies 60 to 70 percent or up to 3.3 million kilograms of fruits and vegetables daily in Batanes, Urdaneta, Divisoria, Balintawak, Pasig, Pasay, Valenzuela, Cebu, Bicol, Iloilo, Palawan, and General Santos City.

"Our economy in Benguet is anchored largely on agriculture. We started complaining last July to August 2021 but the Department of Agriculture denied that there is smuggling or there are vegetables coming from China entering our market. We made our own research and posted it on social media from August to November," she said.

Balonoy said smuggling stopped for a while following the initial hearing in December 2021.

"But on December 24, it resumed until February this year despite the claims that there are confiscations being conducted by the agencies," she added.

Sotto warned Filipino consumers from buying cheaper carrots in the market.

"Isa sa mga dapat malaman ng mga kababayan natin. Yung mga carrots na nanggaling sa abroad, or imported, or smuggled, kaya tumatagal ng dalawang buwan yun, eh may gamot yun. Dapat malaman ng ating mga kababayan na masama sa katawan yun. Kaya hindi dapat nila binibili yun (One of the things that our countrymen should know is that the carrots from abroad, or imported, or smuggled, these lasts for two months because they contain chemicals. They should know that it is not good for our health. That is why they should not buy it),” he said.

On Dec. 14, 2021, Senator Francis Pangilinan filed Senate Resolution 922 calling for a public hearing to discuss the issue of smuggling of agricultural products and assessment issues in the BOC that affect the livelihood of Filipino farmers and stakeholders in the trucking sector. (PNA)