Philippines: Prioritize measures vs. smuggling of food, not tobacco – Consumer group

10 February 2023

By Daily Tribune

A consumer group on Wednesday urged the government to focus its efforts on curbing the smuggling of agricultural food staples rather than use rising food prices as a pretext to include tobacco among agricultural products covered by Republic Act 10845 or the “Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.”

According to Malayang Konsumer spokesperson Atty. Simoun Salinas, “given the rising prices of pantry basics like onions, the Marcos administration is correct in taking steps to curb agri smuggling, but for some reason, some of our legislators would rather champion tobacco and cigarettes.”

“Food security ang isyu. Pagkain para sa Pilipino ang prayoridad. Ito ang dapat na tutukan natin. Hindi yosi.”

Senate Bill 1812, sponsored by Senator Lito Lapid, seeks to amend RA 10845 and include unprocessed and processed tobacco products such as cigarettes in the same category as rice, sugar, vegetables, meat, and other essential food products entitled to protection against smuggling.

RA 10845 classifies large-scale smuggling of these core household items as “economic sabotage.”

Salinas asked, “why give special treatment to tobacco products, and why now? Bakit sinasakyan ang isyu ng smuggling of agri products para maisingit ang tobacco?”

“Poprotektahan mo ang industriyang tabako at sigarilyo? E bisyo yan, masama sa kalusugan yan, lalo na sa kabataan.”

RA 10845 has received renewed attention in light of recent shortages of onions and essential food products and spikes in the price of indispensable items ranging from meat, poultry, and fish.

The agricultural products enumerated in the Anti-Smuggling law that need protection are “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.”

The penalty for economic sabotage and large-scale agri smuggling under RA 10845 is a maximum of 20 years imprisonment and a fine twice the fair value of the smuggled product.

Malayang Konsyumer convenor Christian Real, for his part, stressed that “we don’t need to amend the law to give special treatment to tobacco, to give it a priority like the food items we consume every day.”

“What we need is better enforcement, a more focused and sustained anti-smuggling campaign, from the Bureau of Customs and the DA (Department of Agriculture) to combat agri smuggling to ensure supply and stabilize prices,” Real pointed out.

“That way, we send a strong message to the public that we have our priorities straight. Dapat nga bawasan o pagbawalan mismo ng gobyerno ang paggamit ng mga tobacco products, hindi protektahan.”