MANILA – The House of Representatives has approved on the third and final reading a bill redefining and imposing stiffer penalties against crimes of agricultural economic sabotage.
House Bill No. 9284, or the proposed Anti Agri-Fishery Commodities and Tobacco Economic Sabotage Act of 2023, was passed with a total of 289 votes with no objections on Wednesday at 12:35 a.m.
The bill classifies large-scale smuggling, hoarding, profiteering, cartelizing and other acts of market abuse of agri-fishery commodities as economic sabotage, and imposes life imprisonment as the maximum penalty for offenders.
Besides imprisonment, the measure also imposes a fine of six times the fair market value of the agri-fisheries commodities, and the aggregate amount of taxes, duties and other charges avoided, plus interests.
If the offender is a public official or employee, the penalty shall be the maximum prescribed, and the offender shall suffer an additional penalty of perpetual absolute disqualification from public office, to vote and to participate in any public election.
The measure likewise establishes the Anti-Agri-Fishery Commodities and Tobacco Economic Sabotage Task Force which shall be under the control and supervision of the Office of the President; expands the list of agencies that can institute cases arising from the violation of this Act; and assigns a special team of prosecutors from the Department of Justice for the prosecution of the cases.
President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. has earlier certified the economic sabotage bill as urgent “to promote the productivity of the agriculture sector, protect farmers and fisherfolk from unscrupulous traders and importers, and ensure reasonable and affordable prices of agricultural and fishery products for consumers.”
This, as Marcos lamented that the country is now beset by rising prices and shortages in agricultural products, “partly due to the nefarious acts of smuggling. hoarding, profiteering, and cartel.”
The proposed measure against agricultural economic sabotage is among the expanded Common Legislative Agenda discussed during the third Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) meeting at Malacañan Palace in Manila last Sept. 20.
Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said the measure puts more teeth into the country’s amended and expanded Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Law “to send a chilling effect” on cartels that have been operating for decades now.
“We really mean business this time. And our primary task here is to protect the welfare of the masses – provide them with the most affordable goods in the market,” he said in a statement.
Once the measure becomes a law, he said it would protect farmers and fishermen from smugglers, especially in times when prices are manipulated and agricultural products are hoarded.
“We have to shield them from these atrocious activities to encourage them to produce more rice and other staples so the country can attain food sufficiency,” Romualdez said. (PNA)