BAGUIO CITY—The Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) in a recent meeting with the vegetable industry stakeholders admitted to farmers that the lack of budget and manpower is hampering anti-smuggling operations.
According to Augusta Balanoy, spokesperson of the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post (LALTVTP), during the meeting, Federico E. Laciste, Jr. Assistant Secretary, Chief Implementer, Agriculture Dialogue and Information Network Groups (ADING), admitted that they lack manpower and budget to cope up with operations required to stop illegal smuggling of agricultural products.
Laciste, informed the group that aside from being undermanned, “they do not even have a vehicle to use in their operations that even responding to reports, they use their personal vehicle and their personal fuel”, and requesting additional personnel for operations is not even feasible.
Despite the stated limitations, Laciste added that their authority and power are very limited that they are only hopeful of larger participation from the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Customs.
Also, Laciste admitted to the group that just like the BOC and other agencies, there is corruption within the agency, admitting that he too has received phone calls from “congressmen” and other politicians regarding the issue, he however did not elaborate further.
Meanwhile, George Y. Culaste, Bureau Director of the Bureau of Plant Industry, in the same meeting informed the group that smuggling is also hard to crackdown because their permit application contains items that are allowed for importation, but later on, were discovered to be of fresh vegetables, or cases of misdeclaration, has a permit for frozen vegetables.
Culaste earlier approved the release of two container vans of what was later found out to be fresh vegetables. The container vans which were had a permit for frozen vegetables. LALTVTP questioned the release of these container vans.
Culaste told LALTVP representatives that the cargo in question has a permit for frozen vegetables but by the time he approved of the release, the goods were destroyed as the container van was unplugged. He said the company that owns the container vans incurred a loss due to this. He said, “naaawa nga ako sa kanila kasi nalugi sila eh first time nilang mag import”.
Meanwhile, in an earlier complaint of the LALTVTP on Korean strawberries which they monitored have found its way in the Philippine markets, Culaste said, the permit they approved were of high-end markets like hotels, and the declared selling price per kg is P3k plus and only 16 tons in volume were approved.
This, however, was questioned by LALTVTP, stating that their monitored prices of Korean strawberries sold in Cebu ranging from 600 to 800 pesos.
This was immediately denied by Culaste however, as he stated that those Korean strawberries in Cebu that are in question did not pass thru them and are definitely smuggled from China.
Both Laciste and Culaste promised LALTVTP that they will continue to work hard in performing their jobs for the protection of the local vegetable industry. Laciste offered his direct line for easier coordination and lodging of complaints.
Laciste added, that this month, their request for an additional budget was approved and they hope for a better-operating results.
He also said the bureaucracy in the govt is one reason they cannot respond swiftly. You apply for a request now, you wait for months for approval.
Earlier, LALTVTP decried that, for nine months now, Benguet farmers are losing an estimate of P2.5 million daily because of illegally imported vegetables now flooding the market.
Despite an ongoing Senate hearing on the illegal importation of agricultural products and despite lodging our formal complaints with the proper concerned government agencies, smuggling has not stopped, and smugglers are so brazen to continue the illegal trade to this day, they said.
The LALTVTP is the biggest agriculture-related organization in Benguet with around 10,000 members covering the different stakeholders of the vegetable trading industry based in La Trinidad, Benguet.
On the other hand, Lawyer Richard Kilaan said, “The government should act now or our vegetable industry will die”.
“Contrary to denials of Benguet officials that the problem on vegetable smuggling continues to exist, there is now an admission that there is indeed smuggling”, Kilaan said.
Kilaan is the lead convenor of the Lawyers for Farmers, an advocacy group composed of lawyers and advocates for farmers’ rights and legal initiatives. It is a group in defending the rights of farmers, with the advocacy to inform, educate and empower the farmers in today’s society. LFF will assist the farmers in litigation processes, will regularly conduct legal awareness training, and will actively participate in policy intervention and campaigns in order for our farmers to benefit and have equal access to justice. (LFF Release)