Poe-Escudero tandem vows to prioritize fight vs. smuggling

MANILA – Aside from infusing more funds to help lift the ailing agriculture sector, the tandem of Senators Grace Poe and Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero in the May 9 elections will push for stricter policies against the influx of cheap agricultural products smuggled into the country.

Escudero, a leading vice presidential candidate based on surveys, said he and Poe, if they win in the coming polls, will allot additional Php300 billion in funds for the agriculture sector to boost the industry battered by high cost of production, extreme weather condition and poor support services from the government.

According to Escudero, increasing the budget allocation of the agriculture sector, which is comprised of 60 percent of the country’s poorest population, would be useless if farmers won’t be able to sell their yield at competitive prices because of smuggling.

”We should be exporting our products. So we should solve the problem of smuggling of agricultural products from other countries because our farmers are losing,” Escudero said.

A study by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) indicated that the value of smuggled agricultural items into the country ballooned to more than USD10 billion annually by year 2008 from USD6 billion during the 1980s.

SEARCA also cited data from the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR) on domestic agricultural production and consumption from 1986 to 2009, which pointed to entry of illegally shipped milled rice (USD1.196 billion), refined sugar (USD448.2 million), beef (USD428.8 million), onion (USD259.55 million), pork (USD117.45 million), chicken (USD27.8 million), ginger (USD 7.8 million), and carrots and turnips (USD6.5 million).

”The best competitors of the farmers are not only the calamities and lack of support from the government but the smuggling of agricultural products such as onion, garlic and sugar,” the veteran lawmaker said.

Escudero assured that anti-smuggling measures will be a priority of the government led by Poe.

”Our objective is also to end the agony of our farmers and fishermen through big budget from the government and to stop taking advantage of the their weakness,” Escudero said.

As legislators, Poe and Escudero have separately filed bills aiming to curb smuggling in the country.

Poe has filed Senate Bill No. 2348, which seeks to define smuggling as an act that constitutes economic sabotage.

Escudero, on the other hand, filed Senate Bill No. 422 or the Anti-Smuggling Act, which amends the Tariff and Customs Code of the Philippines to stop smuggling, simplify rules and facilitate trade transaction, among others. Jelly Musico/PNA/northboundasia.com