A 50,000-strong farmers group welcomed the filing of a Senate bill which seeks to toughen the existing Anti-Smuggling Law by expanding its coverage and imposing more strict penalties.
In a statement, the Philippine Tobacco Growers Association (PTGA) said it supports SB 1812 because it would curb the massive smuggling of agricultural products that hurts the local farm sector and deprives the government of revenues.
The PTGA lauded Sen. Lapid for sponsoring SB 1812 that aims to strengthen the existing law against smuggling of agricultural products amid the rampant illegal importation of commodities like sugar, onions and tobacco.
Senate Bill 1812, which aims to amend Republic Act 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016, along with the recently passed House Bill 3917, considers large-scale agricultural smuggling of tobacco, whether manufactured or unmanufactured, including finished products such as cigars, cigarettes or heated tobacco products, as “economic sabotage” and a non-bailable offense.
The bill, filed by Senator Lito Lapid, proposes to amend Section 4 of the existing Anti-Agri Smuggling Law by imposing the penalty of imprisonment of 30 to 40 years, and a fine of twice the fair value and the aggregate amount of the taxes, duties and other charges avoided by the smuggling of tobacco.
The current law only penalizes large-scale smuggling of sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish and cruciferous vegetables in its raw state, or which have undergone the simple processes of preparation or preservation for the market, with a minimum amount of P1 million.
The farmers group asked the Senate to act on Lapid’s proposal to amend RA 10845 by expanding its coverage to include both raw and processed tobacco in the list of core agricultural products given protection against large-scale smuggling.
Industry data show that the persisting agri-smuggling problem adversely affects about 700,000 sugar cane farmers, 35,000 onion farmers, and 462,000 workers involved in the tobacco production chain across the Philippines.
PTGA president Saturnino Distor said all agricultural industries should be equally protected as rampant smuggling continues to be a grave threat to the livelihood of local farmers and millions of dependents who rely on these industries for income and sustenance.
“Milyong tao ang nakadepende sa industriya ng tabako kasama na ang mga nasa trading, manufacturing at distribution. Naparakaraming magbebenepisyo kung ipapasa ang SB 1812 na naglalayong ituring ang smuggling ng tabako na pagsabotahe ng ekonomiya,” Distor said.
The National Tobacco Administration (NTA) estimates that 2.2 million people depend on the tobacco industry, while data from the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) indicate that around 5 to 6 million are indirectly employed by the sugar industry.
Distor lamented how smuggling renders local farm output uncompetitive, impedes the productivity of farmers and leads to higher costs of agricultural products to the detriment of consumers.
“Sa patuloy na pagtaas ng presyo ng lokal na produkto ay lalong lumalaganap ang smuggling. Natatalo ang mga kababayan nating magsasaka sa kompetisyon kung ikukumpara sa presyo ng smuggled,” he said.
The unabated smuggling of tobacco is estimated to cost P50 billion to P100 billion in revenue losses for the government, according to the Bureau of Internal Revenue. As provided under Republic Act No. 11346, part of excise tax collected from tobacco products shall be allocated to fund the government’s Universal Health Care program. In 2021, the BIR collected Php176 billion from the tobacco industry.