Agricultural economic sabotage bill certified as urgent

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Agricultural economic sabotage bill certified as urgent
Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri Senator
Migz Zubiri / Facebook Page

MANILA, Philippines — President Marcos has certified as urgent a measure that defines and imposes penalties for agricultural economic sabotage as his administration grapples with escalating prices of rice and other farm goods.

In a letter sent to Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri on Sept. 20, Marcos certified the need to immediately pass Senate Bill 2432, citing the rising prices of agricultural products caused by hoarding, smuggling and other illegal activities.

“The need to facilitate the passage of this important piece of legislation is imperative, especially now that the country is beset by rising prices and shortages in agricultural products, partly due to the nefarious acts of smuggling, hoarding, profiteering and cartel,” the President said.

“It will also promote the productivity of the agriculture sector, protect farmers and fisherfolk from unscrupulous traders and importers and ensure reasonable and affordable prices of agricultural and fishery products for consumers,” he added.

The certification exempts the measure from the rule that a bill can only be passed on final reading three days after its approval on second reading.

If enacted, Senate Bill 2432 would repeal Republic Act 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.

The Senate vowed to pass the bill on final reading next week, with Zubiri saying on Wednesday that the urgent passage of the bill would make agricultural smuggling an act of economic sabotage, a non-bailable offense.

Sen. JV Ejercito, who authored RA 10845 that it seeks to repeal, said the bill would undergo the period of amendments next week and would immediately be passed from second to third reading because of the certification of urgency.

The Senate will go on break from Sept. 30 to Nov. 5.

As proposed, Senate Bill 2432 slaps severe penalties on smuggling, hoarding, profiteering and cartel of agricultural and fishery products, including life imprisonment and a fine thrice the value of the agricultural and fishery products subject of the crime of economic sabotage.

A government officer or employee found to be an accomplice in the commission of the crime shall also be perpetually disqualified from holding public office, voting and participating in any public election and their monetary and financial benefits forfeited.

It also provides that when the offender is a juridical person, the criminal liability shall be attached to all officers who participated in the decision that led to the commission of the prohibited act.

Any person found guilty of any crime covered by the measure shall also be penalized with perpetual absolute disqualification to engage in any business involving importation, transportation, storage and warehousing and domestic trade of agricultural and fishery goods.

Senate Bill 2432 also provides government authorities the right to seize the agricultural and fishery products that are the subject of the prohibited acts and the properties used in the commission of agricultural economic sabotage such as vehicles, vessels, aircraft, storage areas, warehouses, boxes, cases, trunks and other containers used to store farm and fishery products.

To make it work, the bill provides for the creation of the Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Council to be led by the President or his designated permanent representative.

The council, which will ensure the proper implementation of the provisions against agricultural economic sabotage, will consist of the Departments of Agriculture, Trade, Justice, Finance, Transportation and the Interior and Local Government; Anti-Money Laundering Council; Philippine Competition Council and one representative each from the sugar, rice and corn, livestock and poultry, vegetables and fruits, fisheries and other aquatic products and tobacco sectors.

Senate Bill 2432 is among the expanded common legislative agenda discussed during the third Legislative-Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) last Wednesday.

It is pending in the period of interpellations in the Senate while a technical working group is finalizing the version of the House of Representatives.

Other economic measures in LEDAC’s expanded common legislative agenda are the amendments to the Government Procurement Reform Act; bill imposing excise tax on single-use plastics; amendments to the Cooperative Code; amendments to the Fisheries Code; proposed New Government Auditing Code; bill rationalizing the mining fiscal regime; proposed Philippine Defense Industry Development Act; proposed Philippine Maritime Zones Act, proposed Open Access in Data Transmission Act and amendments to the Right-of-Way Act.

During plenary debates on Wednesday, senators raised questions on how the bill will crack down on agricultural smugglers, whose cartel acts of hoarding and profiteering create an artificial shortage and manipulate food prices.

“I have read on several occasions for the past weeks, several raids being conducted and it is a crime to hoard so much quantities of rice. It may, in fact right now, under existing laws, be considered as economic sabotage,” said Sen. Francis Escudero.

“Why is it that up to now I have yet to hear a name that is responsible for the hoarding of rice that the Bureau of Customs has raided? And why is it that not a single case has been filed against individuals?” Escudero added.

The Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act considers as large-scale the smuggling of more than P1 million worth of sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish and cruciferous vegetables, and P10 million worth of rice – both tantamount to the non-bailable offense of economic sabotage.

With a special team of prosecutors to be created by the Department of Justice in filing charges against smugglers, the bill effectively removes from the Bureau of Customs the sole mandate of filing charges against smugglers, according to the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Cynthia Villar. –  Marc Jayson Cayabyab

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