Congress asked to institutionalize group tasked to curb agri product smuggling

Zandro Ochona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 31 2022 08:34 PM

The Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Agriculture asked the House of Representatives to pass a measure institutionalizing the interagency Sub Task Group on Economic Intelligence (STGEI).

During the final hearing of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food in the 18th Congress, DTI and DA officials underscored the need to institutionalize the STGEI to curb smugglers of agricultural products.

DTI Usec. Ruth Castelo said since the creation of the sub task group in Februrary 2021, it has been active in running after smugglers.

"This sub task group has already conducted around 17 operations… We have already apprehended in these 17 operations for a total value of around P600 million or more," said Castelo before the House committee.

The STGEI is composed of the DTI, DA, Philippine National Police, National Bureau of Investigation, National Security Council, National Intelligence Coordinating Agency and the Philippine Competition Commission.

If institutionalized, the group should also include the Bureau of Customs and the Bureau of Internal Revenue.

"In the one year that we have been operating, we have already accomplished much with very little that we have… We have no budget. It’s actually the DA funding only our operations, I don’t know where they get the money to do this because this is a temporary operation, a temporary sub task group. We do not have personnel except for agency-assigned personnel,” said Castelo.

"If you would please, maybe we can look into continuing this sub task group and institutionalizing it, providing funds for it and providing personnel for it because we have very clear objective,” she added.

House Committee Chairman Mark Enverga asked both DTI and DA to submit their proposal.

"I hope we could get a copy of the framework of the existing sub task group… Please include your recommendations as far as personnel needed, the budgetary requirement of the creation and the institutionalizing of the sub task group,” the lawmaker told DA Sec. William Dar during the hearing.

"Wala talaga silang regular budget. Even the department (DA) has no regular budget for anti-smuggling,” said Dar.

The DTI said they are working with “mere passion and conviction.”

"Sec. Lopez actually agreed and instructed to release funds for the STGEI. But there is no way we can because of audit rules. Hindi rin maka-release ang DTI ng pera kahit na gusto ng department,” said Castelo.

Present during the hearing was Atty. Karen Yambao from the Bureau of Customs Legal Service who said they have 158 apprehensions for smuggling vegetable, poultry and other farm products in the country and that cases have been filed against those involved.



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