MANILA, Philippines — A large farmers group lauded Sen. Lito Lapid for filing Senate Bill 1812 that aims to strengthen the law against smuggling of agricultural products amid the rampant illegal importation of commodities like sugar, onions and tobacco.
There are about 700,000 sugar cane farmers 35,000 onion farmers, and 462,000 workers involved in the tobacco production chain across the Philippines whose livelihood is negatively affected by the continuing agri-smuggling problem in the country.
The Philippine Tobacco Growers Association (PTGA), representing 50,000 tobacco farmers across the Philippines, are hoping that the government will pass Sen. Lapid’s proposal to amend RA 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016 by expanding its coverage to include both raw and processed tobacco in the list of core agricultural products given protection against large-scale smuggling.
According to PTGA president Saturnino Distor, all agricultural industries should be equally protected as rampant smuggling continues to be a grave threat to the livelihood of local farmers and millions of dependents who rely on these industries for income and sustenance.
“Milyong tao ang nakadepende sa industriya ng tabako kasama na ang mga nasa trading, manufacturing at distribution. Naparakaraming magbebenepisyo kung ipapasa ang SB 1812 na naglalayong ituring ang smuggling ng tabako na pagsabotahe ng ekonomiya,” Distor said.
(Millions are depending on the industry of tobacco, including those in the trading, manufacturing and distribution. A lot of them will benefit if the SB 1812 will be passed, declaring as economic sabotage the smuggling of tobacco.)
The National Tobacco Administration (NTA) estimates that 2.2 million people depend on the tobacco industry, while data from the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) also indicate that around 5 to 6 million are indirectly employed by the sugar industry.
Distor lamented how smuggling renders local farm output uncompetitive, impedes the productivity of farmers and leads to higher costs of agricultural products to the detriment of consumers.
“Sa patuloy na pagtaas ng presyo ng lokal na produkto ay lalong lumalaganap ang smuggling. Natatalo ang mga kababayan nating magsasaka sa kompetisyon kung ikukumpara sa presyo ng smuggled,” he said.
(With the increasing prices of local products, smuggling has become rampant. Our farmers will be on the losing end in this competition against the prices of smuggled products.)
The unabated smuggling of tobacco is estimated to cost P50 billion to P100 billion in revenue losses for the government, according to the Bureau of Internal Revenue. As provided under Republic Act no. 11346, part of excise tax collected from tobacco products shall be allocated to fund the government’s Universal Health Care program. In 2021, the BIR collected P176 billion from the tobacco industry.
Under SB 1812 and its recently passed counterpart bill HB 3917, large-scale agricultural smuggling of tobacco, whether manufactured or unmanufactured, including finished products such as cigars, cigarettes or heated tobacco products, is considered “economic sabotage” and a non-bailable offense.
The bill seeks to amend Section 4 of the existing Anti-Agri Amuggling Law by imposing the penalty of imprisonment of 30 to 40 years, and a fine of twice the fair value and the aggregate amount of the taxes, duties and other charges avoided by the smuggling of tobacco.
The current law only penalizes large-scale smuggling of sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish and cruciferous vegetables in its raw state, or which have undergone the simple processes of preparation or preservation for the market, with a minimum amount of P1 million or rice, with a minimum amount P10 million.
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