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SOLON: PROBE GOV’T EXECS LINKED TO AGRI SMUGGLING

A party-list lawmaker called for an investigation and the filing of charges against “big-time” personalities in the government allegedly involved in agricultural smuggling.

Magsasaka Party-list Representative Argel Cabatbat said the Department of Agriculture (DA) should look into the smuggling problem, particularly the involvement of officials from the Bureau of Plant Industry as if they are being protected.

“We will continue collecting evidence and witnesses that will expose the corruption in the Bureau of Plant Industry that we believe is the root cause of smuggling in the country,” Cabatbat said.

The legislator has already filed a resolution calling for a congressional inquiry on the implementation status of border inspection and food safety regulations, in the state of border inspection facilities in the country.

The resolution also seeks to look at the government’s capacity to curb the smuggling of imported vegetables and other agricultural commodities in the country.

“The country’s importation policies and ineffective border regulations enable the proliferation of smuggling activities that directly threaten the income of Filipino vegetable farmers and endangers the health and safety of consumers,” the lawmaker said.

“It is imperative for Congress to prevent economic sabotage, specifically large-scale agricultural smuggling, and exercise its oversight function.”

He said it is imperative for Congress to prevent “economic sabotage”, specifically large-scale agricultural smuggling, and exercise its oversight function in ensuring the effective implementation of food safety and importation-related laws to protect the livelihood of local farmers, ensure food safety for the consumers, and accelerate economic recovery through improved tariff revenue collections.

During a Senate hearing, DA Assistant Secretary Federico Laciste Jr. confirmed that several high-profile personalities have called him to accommodate technical smuggling.

Technical smuggling is seen feasible as smugglers subject themselves to legal procedures of acquiring import permit or accreditation, but with the misuse or misdeclaration of data and/or products.

“May mga tumatawag po kasi sa akin noon, mga matatas na tao, pero ang ginawa ko po dun, di ko na po inaksyunan, instead, tinuloy pa rin namin yung paghuli, ‘yung pagkaso. Marami po, malalim na po ‘yung ugat ng problem (There were some who called me, high-profile individuals, but what I did, I did not respond, we still pushed through with the arrest, and the filing of cases. It’s numerous, its roots are deep),” Laciste said.

Senate President Vicente Sotto then asked for the names of the said high-ranking individuals, as he stressed that entry of such products poses threat to the public’s health, adding it contains formaldehyde. The agriculture official agreed to list down their names.

“Ito ‘yung pinakakakain ng mga smuggler na ito, sarap isaksak sa bunganga nila yung mga iniismuggle nila, wala pang kinikita ‘yung gobyerno.”

“[It’s] cancer-causing substance, sprayed in vegetables to keep it fresh, it’s used in building materials in household cleaning products, glues tsaka mga (and) adhesives. Ito ‘yung pinakakakain ng mga smuggler na ito, sarap isaksak sa bunganga nila yung mga iniismuggle nila, wala pang kinikita ‘yung gobyerno (These are what they’re feeding the people. It’s better to put smuggled goods in their mouths, the government has no income),” Sotto said.

DA Secretary William Dar condemned the said unnamed high-ranking personalities and the illegal entry of some vegetable products,

“We condemn whoever these personalities are, and we at DA will act swiftly and decisively to reprimand those involved among our ranks, officials, and staff. If found guilty, we will file the appropriate administrative charges against these individuals… I condemn this dastardly act of smuggling and smugglers in general,” he said.

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