MANILA (UPDATE) — Sen. Raffy Rulfo on Tuesday suggested legalizing "ukay-ukay" as he castigated the Bureau of Customs for allegedly allowing the proliferation of imported secondhand clothing, which he said could have been smuggled into the country by "big time syndicates."
"Why in the heck tumingin ka kaliwa't kanan, Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao nagkalat ang ukay-ukay? Ano pong ginagawa ng BOC ba't nakakalusot itong mga ukay-ukay?" Tulfo asked.
(Why are ukay-ukays scattered left and right in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao? What is the BOC doing? Why are these ukay-ukays allowed?)
Enacted in 1966, Republic Act 4653 prohibits "the commercial importation of textile articles commonly known as used clothing and rags" to "safeguard the health of the people and maintain the dignity of the nation."
However, ukay-ukay businesses have become more ubiquitous in the past few decades and some have even moved online to sell the secondhand goods.
In an ANC interview Wednesday, Tulfo said he plans to file a resolution to repeal RA 4653.
"I-legalize na lang 'yan para ang makinabang ay taongbayan by way of taxation," he told "Headstart".
(Just legalize it so the public will benefit from by way of taxation.)
"Sa ngayon kasi ang makikinabang niyan eh 'yung mga big-time smugglers, 'yung mga korap sa Bureau of Customs. Sila ang naghatihati sa nalikom na salapi sa pamamagitan ng smuggling."
(Right now, big-time smugglers and corrupt personnel from the Bureau of Customs are benefiting from it. They split the money through smuggling.)
Should government collect tax from ukay-ukay, the country could earn as much as P1.2 billion, he said. Taxes for a 40-footer container containing RTW from China is worth P180,000, he added.
"Just imagine kung halimbawa 1,000 container every month pumapasok, very conservative na'to, sa P100,000 na lang ang sinisingil, that is P100 million a month na makokolekta sa buwis," Tulfo said.
(Just imagine if 1,000 containers arrive every month, that's a conservative estimate, if they are taxed for P100,000, that is P100 million a month in tax.)
"So, P100 million times 12, that's P1.2 billion ang makokolekta. Just imagine, ilan ang mapapagamot na pasyente diyan?"
(So, P100 million multiplied by 12, that's P1.2 billion in tax. Just imagine how many patients could be treated by that?)
Tulfo clarified that he is not against ukay-ukay owners, but that the BOC should fulfill its mandate.
"Gusto kong malaman na hindi ako against sa ukay-ukay. In fact, my driver and my kasambahay bumibili sila sa ukay-ukay and I don't stop them because yun ang gusto nila at affordable sa kanila... Ang pinag-uusapan natin dito ay hindi ginagawa ata ng BOC ang kanilang trabaho," Tulfo said.
(I am not against ukay-ukay. In fact, my driver and my helper buy from ukay-ukay and I don't stop them because that's what they want and what they can afford. What we are talking about here is that the BOC is not doing its job.)
Tulfo said the small time ukay-ukay operators might also be victims of the smugglers.
"Binibili din nila yun eh. They didn't know na yung pinagbilan nila hindi nagbabayad ng buwis. Yung mga maliliit na ukay-ukay nagbabayad sila ng buwis, whereas itong mga nagparating ng ukay ni singkong duling walang binabayaran," Tulfo lamented.
(Businesses buy those secondhand goods, but they do not know that suppliers do not pay taxes. Many small ukay-ukays pay taxes, but those who supplied the goods do not pay a single centavo.)
BOC deputy commissioner Edward James Buco said that while the agency has been intensifying efforts against smugglers of ukay-ukay goods, some challenges remain.
"As we heighten and intensify our efforts against smuggling, the smugglers also become more innovative... One factor really making it hard for us to find kasi ay 'pag tiningnan sa x-ray 'yan, for examples, there are also textiles," Buco said.
(If you inspect that through x-ray, there are also textiles.)
Tulfo suggested that if the problem of ukay-ukay has become unmanageable for BOC, it might be better to just craft a law legalizing the business so that the government could collect taxes from it.
"Maybe we can come up with a system to legalize ukay-ukay na puwede na pong pumasok sa bansa at magbayad ng tamang buwis kasi ngayon po wala silang binabayad ni singkong duling," he said.
"Kaysa naman po tinutugis niyo ang online sellers at vloggers na barya-barya lang po ang kinikita, samantalang yang mga ukay-ukay malalaking sindikato po nasa likod n'yan," he added.
(Maybe we can come up with a system to legalize ukay-ukay so they could be imported into the country and pay the right taxes because they do not pay anything right now. That will be better compared to going after online sellers and vloggers who only earn a paltry sum, when there are big syndicates behind that.)
The BOC promised to beef up its efforts against ukay-ukay operators and the alleged smugglers behind it.