No wonder those high-profile smugglers—some already identified in the Senate (both past and current)—have persisted in their illicit trade practices because the law against agricultural smuggling has been too soft and easy for them to circumvent. Also, there were no special courts designed for such cases, hence they go their malpractices as if they owned the market.
Senators recently pushed for the creation of courts especially for handling agricultural smuggling cases, as they expressed alarm over the impunity with which such crime is being committed en flagrante. They are also pushing to amend the 2016 law designating agri-smuggling as economic sabotage.
And I thought all the while that this kind of crime had been labeled as economic sabotage, no wonder again that the smugglers are getting richer at the expense of the ordinary consumers. They even dictate the prices in the local markets.
Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform, said the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Law would be implemented effectively if there is a dedicated court for smuggling, hoarding, profiteering and cartelized operation of agricultural products. She lamented that even with such an Agricultural Smuggling Law, no smugglers have been charged with economic sabotage. (I agree with this completely).
“We intend to create an anti-agricultural smuggling court to ensure that the proper implementation of the law will be made. We hope that those involved in the courts and the justice department will help us draft a law to implement the Anti-Agriculture Smuggling Act,” Villar stressed.
It may be recalled that Congress in 2016 passed Republic Act 10817, now known as the Agri-Smuggling Act, the cut-off amount involved for an offense to be declared as economic sabotage, and deemed non-bailable, is P10 million for rice and P1 million for other agricultural commodities, she said.
Legislators were also amending the Anti-Smuggling Act to give it more teeth and to include hoarding, price manipulation and cartel as economic sabotage and non-bailable.
Sen. Francis Tolentino, chair of the Committee on Justice and Human Rights, presiding at the hearing, said despite RA No. 10845, or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016, smuggling of agricultural products continues unabated.
He emphasized that the intention of that law is to try cases involving smuggling, hoarding, profiteering and cartel of agricultural products and to ensure that individuals and organizations involved in these activities are held accountable for their actions.
Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III asked the justice committee to review the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 10845 to determine “how a simple law was made difficult to enforce because of a faulty IRR.”
“Maybe we can add a specific crime to the law like ‘refusal to prosecute large-scale agricultural smuggling which will make liable the legal department (of the Bureau of Customs) and even the Department of Justice prosecutors, depending on the evidence,” Pimentel said.
Pimentel likened it to obstruction of justice but very specific, which would add teeth to the law. He also wants to amend section 3 of RA 10845 by rewriting the phrase “as valued by the Bureau of Customs” and involvingthe Department of Agriculture in the valuation of smuggled agricultural products in order to put flexibility to the law.