According to the League of Associations at La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Areas, farmers are losing about PhP2.5 million a day following a 40% decline in orders due to the influx of smuggled vegetables in the market.
High-ranking government officials, including unnamed politicians, are allegedly behind the illegal importation of vegetables from China that has pushed the local industry to the brink of collapse, as the Senate committee-of-the-whole investigation into the issues hounding the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
Senators grilled BOC and Department of Agriculture (DA) officials for their supposed failure to stop the influx of imported agricultural products, mainly carrots, onions and strawberries, even after Sotto’s exposé.
During the hearing, Agriculture Assistant Secretary Federico Laciste Jr. confirmed that there were indeed “big-time” personalities involved in the illicit trade.
He said that “highly placed” personalities have been calling him to drop the charges, but clarified he did not heed them and went on to file charges against the suspects.
Pressed to identify the personalities, Laciste sought to divulge the names in an executive session, but this was turned down.
“If that will put you in trouble, you can write it down and we will be the one to handle it,” Sotto said.
Unlike Benguet produce that last only a few days, smuggled carrots believed to have originated from China stay fresh even while unrefrigerated, according to Agot Balanoy, public relations officer of the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Areas (LALTVTA).
Laciste acknowledged that carrots from China entering the Philippine marketplace must have been smuggled into the country.
“We haven’t accredited vegetables from China to enter our country. We only allow fruits from China,” he told the Senate hearing.
Balanoy said small warehouses near Divisoria market in Manila had allegedly been releasing imported vegetables to the market in Metro Manila whenever Benguet vegetable prices increase.
“Unahin ang kapakanan ng ordinaryong magsasaka,”Senator Christopher “Bong” Go renewed his appeal to the government to prioritize the welfare of small agricultural workers and stressed the need to eradicate smuggling of agricultural products into the country, which has been adversely affecting the livelihoods of Filipino farmers nationwide.
In an ambush interview after his visit to fire victims in Barangay Baesa, Quezon City on Wednesday, April 20, Go strongly urged the concerned agencies to closely safeguard the interests of Filipino agricultural workers, noting that
“Karapatan po ng mga kababayan nating malaman ang katotohanan, kung totoo talaga ito. Kung sino itong mga involved sa smuggling, eh ilabas na kaagad, at managot (at) kasuhan. Ayaw naman nating merong nananamantala sa sitwasyon,” Go emphasized.
Senator Go then reiterated his appeal to the Department of Agriculture to focus on uplifting the lives of Filipino farmers, stressing that the government should better promote local produce than imported goods.
“Always interest po ng mga maliliit na magsasaka ang dapat unahin ng ating gobyerno… Kahit na legitimate naman yung kanilang importation, unahin pa rin po dapat yung mga maliliit,” he added.
In line with the Duterte Administration’s anti-corruption campaign, Senator Go likewise reassured that President Rodrigo Duterte likewise condemns any form of smuggling and illegal entry of products in the country.
Earlier this month, Senate President Vicente Sotto III named some of the high-profile personalities that are allegedly involved in the agricultural smuggling during the Committee of the Whole hearing on the matter, and requested the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) to have them verified.