MANILA - After counterfeit goods and tobacco products, the most smuggled items in the Philippines were onions, according to an official of the Philippine National Police.
Police Brigadier General Romeo Caramat Jr. reported during a conference on illicit trade held on Thursday that P137.6 million worth of onions had been smuggled into the country since 2019.
“From January 2019 to April 2023, the Philippine National Police in coordination with the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Agriculture conducted 1190 law enforcement operations against illicit trade,” Caramat said.
Around P11.7 billion worth of products were illicitly traded during the period, he said.
Onion prices skyrocketed around late 2022 to early 2023, reaching as high as P800 per kilo. Lawmakers have alleged that an onion cartel was behind the shortage of the commodity and the spike in prices.
Aside from onions, other commonly smuggled commodities were rice, P500,750 of which were smuggled; and sugar of which P858,000 had been smuggled, Caramat told the audience at the Global Anti-Illicit Trade Summit, hosted by the Economist Impact and supported by JTI or Japan Tobacco International.
Garments, bags and motor vehicle parts were the biggest category in illicit trade, making up over P10 billion of the total.
Tobacco products came in second, with more than P1.49 billion products confiscated, according to the PNP.
Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Romeo Lumagui Jr, meanwhile said that tobacco smuggling was the agency’s biggest problem currently.
“The revenue loss for tobacco is huge and also that is one of the main reason why we are not attaining our collection target for excise taxes,” Lumagui said.
Caramat noted that illicit trade increased during the pandemic and that smugglers had been using “online platforms” and “online selling.”
“To combat illicit, we should enhance our capability in terms of technology because most of these criminal gangs were doing their business through these cyber platforms,” he said.
However, he said the PNP did not have the technology to monitor illicit trade and that all the police could do was to collaborate with other agencies.