Villar eyes creation of special court to address agri smuggling

Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 02 2023 07:38 PM

Workers unload bags of red onions inside a storage area in Divisoria market in Manila on Aug. 18, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/file
Workers unload bags of red onions inside a storage area in Divisoria market in Manila on Aug. 18, 2022. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News/file

MANILA -- The entry of smuggled agricultural products continue to flood Philippine ports despite the existence of Anti-Smuggling Act of 2016, an agricultural group told a Senate panel Tuesday. 

Rosendo So, chairman of Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), cited their interception smuggled onions, which were misdeclared at the port of Manila as “mix toys” in its supporting documents.

In the Subic port, misdeclared imported meat and fish were also intercepted by authorities, So said.

“Mula last administration tuluy-tuloy pa rin ang pagpasok up to now…Pinakamalaki between MICP (Manila International Container Port) and Subic... Third ay Batangas (port)… Talagang technical smuggling ang malaking problema natin na nahuhuli,” So told the panel.

Traders assessed that the amount of confiscated items as somewhere that ran from P5 million to P10 million.

“Ang smuggling matagal na, off and on off and on. Pag mainit tatahimik yan… Ang pinakamaganda pong maghabla ay dapat competitor mismo sapagkat competitor ang lalabanan yan hanggang sa kadulu-duluhan… We are losing P250 billion in value-added tax and downsizing of companies,” said Jesus Arranza, chairman of the Federation of Philippine Industries.

But a smuggling complaint must be signed by the sitting BOC commissioner before it can be forwarded to the Department of Justice for preliminary investigation and before reaching the court if the latter finds merit to the complaint.

“Kaya tumatagal ang kaso, only the BOC can file tapos ang daming dinadaanang kaso. Sa last hearing ng Senado, parang 300 plus ang kaso. At ang glaring, walang conviction,” SINAG Secretary-General Jason Cainglet lamented.

Lawyer Karen Ann Yambao, who was representing the BOC’s Legal Service, told the panel that they have filed 24 cases at the DOJ last year, and another 46 complaints this year.

“Ang nakulong po? Ilan po? Reclusion perpetua raw eh,” Senator Francis Tolentino, chairman of the Senate justice and human rights committee, asked.

“All the cases are all for preliminary investigation with the Department of Justice. Wala pa po (nakukulong),” Yambao disclosed.


Arranza meanwhile pressed Yambao as to the reason behind the exit of smuggled products from ports supposedly being guarded by the BOC.
Yambao was speechless for several seconds upon hearing the question and even later admitted that she has no answer to such query.

“We have filed cases against, ahh to strengthen boarder protection. We have tried to solicit the, the. Hindi ko talaga alam. Anyway, paano siya nakakalabas? Hindi ko rin talaga alam Mr. Chair,” Yambao admitted to the panel while repeatedly shaking her head.

The Department of Justice received a total of 159 complaints from the BOC from 2016 to February 2023.

However, 76 or 48 percent of these complaints have been dismissed.
“For lack of probable (cause)… there were only nine that were filed in court from 2016 to 2023. So eto po yung mga cases nan ai-establish po ang probable cause,” Florina Agtarap, State Counsel III of the DOJ, said.


Some senators recommended various ways to combat agricultural smuggling such as injecting new provisions that will give additional teeth to the Anti-Smuggling Law.

“Maybe we can add a specific crime to the law like 'refusal to prosecute large-scale agricultural smuggling' which will make liable the legal department (of the Bureau of Customs) and even the Department of Justice prosecutors, depending on the evidence. Because this is to obstruction of justice but very specific,” Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel III said.

Sen. Cynthia Villar, meanwhile, is proposing to create a special court dedicated to try smuggling-related cases.

She is also looking at the reality of seeing big-time smugglers escaping the charges.

But Tolentino is looking at the Court of Tax Appeals instead of creating a special regional trial court for agricultural smugglers.

“The Court of tax appeals, a division should be created to address smuggling. Hindi na RTC level… (and the decision will be appealable to the) Supreme Court,” Tolentino said.

Court Administrator Raul Villanueva agreed that there is a need to strengthen the Anti-Smuggling Law.

“We completely agree that this should be addressed. But creating a court we submit to the wisdom of this committee… We have designated a number of courts, drugs courts was by reason of a law, but we did not come up with additional courts there,” Villanueva said.

“Both works for us in the sense that there is focus on the particular concern. So kung ang concern is anti-smuggling, large scale your honor, indeed if there is a court that will be concentrating on it, whether created pursuant to the Senate Bill… or even through designation.. that focus will help in trying to run after all these smugglers,” Villanueva added.

Judge Danilo Cruz, President of the Philippine Judges Association, echoed Villanueva’s position on the matter.

“There are several judges at large that actually does not have court assignment. They can be designated as anti-agricultural court judges, that would handle exclusively smuggling cases There’s no need to create a special body through the circular that can issued by the Supreme Court, they can be designated swiftly on any smuggling cases. Pwede pang. Magkaroon ng anti-agricultural smuggling court in the country. Mas mabilis sana ito,” Cruz said.


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