Agri chief assures zero tolerance for corruption

AGRICULTURE Secretary William Dar

AGRICULTURE Secretary William Dar on Friday said his department will never tolerate any act of corruption and is investigating the alleged involvement of its officials in the unabated large-scale smuggling of agricultural products.

In a message to The Manila Times, Dar said the Department of Agriculture (DA) is trying to ferret out the officials linked to smuggling and is requesting individuals or companies with pertinent information to “come forward and stand up.”

“We have zero tolerance for corruption,” he said.

Last Monday, the Senate resumed its hearing into the rampant smuggling of vegetables from China. Testifying at the hearing, Agriculture Assistant Secretary Federico Laciste Jr. revealed he received calls from government personalities urging him to drop the charges his office was preparing last year against the vegetable smugglers.

Senate President Vicente Sotto 3rd questioned the inconsistencies in the records of imported agricultural products compiled by the Bureau of Customs (BoC) and the DA, which Customs Assistant Commissioner Vincent Maronilla attributed to different data references.

To address the inconsistencies, Dar told The Times the DA is “further elevating our monitoring and surveillance and our joint inspection of imports with BoC.”

Immediately after the Senate committee's second hearing on vegetable smuggling, Dar released a statement condemning “in the strongest terms” the smuggling and illegal entry of all agricultural, fishery and meat products into the country, stressing that the illegal products compete directly with local farmers, fishers and food producers.

He also warned that smuggled agricultural products are dangerous since they could carry pests and diseases that could harm not only the local agriculture, fishery and animal industry, but most importantly, human health.

Dar had earlier condemned the personalities involved in the smuggling, pushing or allowing the importation of vegetable products from China.

“We at the Department of Agriculture will act swiftly and decisively to reprimand those involved among our ranks, officials and staff. If found guilty, we will file the appropriate administrative charges against these individuals,” he said.

In October 2021, the DA and BoC agreed to intensify second border inspections and create a technical working group (TWG) to review the 15-year-old guidelines and procedures on handling imported food items.

The TWG helps establish sanitary and phytosanitary measures, food safety standards, and other regulatory measures in conducting first and second border inspection and control procedures.

Last January, the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) said that based on UN Comtrade 2020 figures, at least 300 million kilos of rice, 45.5 million kilos of pork, 76 million kilos of chicken, 23.04 million kilos of onions, 6.7 million kilos of garlic and 12 million kilos of vegetables were illegally brought into the country.

This resulted in foregone revenues of at least P9 billion, it said, an amount that could have been used for Covid-19 pandemic response.

Since the enactment of the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act in 2016 (Republic Act 10845), not one smuggler has been convicted despite billions of pesos worth of agricultural products seized by the government.

The law considers large-scale smuggling of agricultural products as economic sabotage. It involves the importing, transporting, selling of at least P1 million worth of sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish and cruciferous vegetables, in their raw state, or which have undergone the processes of preparation and preservation, or a minimum of P10 million worth of rice.

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