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Opinion

Agri-smuggling likely a cover for shabu

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Narcotics authorities can put two and two together. A mere P1 million worth of smuggled agricultural produce carries life sentence for economic sabotage, with no bail while on trial. Yet smugglers sell the contraband at only a fraction of domestic rates. It’s like they just want to unload the illegal goods even at no profit. Why take such inordinate risk?

Example: wholesale price of smuggled red onion, P3 per kilo; retail price of Mindoro-grown, P100 per kilo. Carrots: wholesale smuggled, P40 per kilo; retail of Benguet-grown, P140. Same with broccoli, cauliflower, white onion, celery, leeks, garlic, strawberry. It’s the market vendors and sari-sari store owners who make a bonanza. What gives?

Most of the smuggled produce comes from China. Also from China come such over-imported items that are not in short domestic production to begin with: fish like galunggong, bonito, tulingan, mackerel, sardine; chicken and pork; corn and feeds.

Could the agricultural contraband be mere cover for more profitable trafficking – say, narcotics?

The bulk of shabu (meth) originates from China too. Since the 1990s, Gen. Jose Almonte has warned of a Chinese Communist Party plot to soften the Philippine state. Foremost is by drug addiction; another is by influencing then indoctrinating Filipino officials, academics and businessmen.

Almonte was then Economic Intelligence and Investigation Bureau chief, and later national security adviser and National Intelligence Coordinating Agency head. People’s Liberation Army generals led the shabu smuggling to the Philippines and neighbors, he said. Beijing was beginning to grab 25 shoals and reefs in the South China Sea, including seven from the Philippines: Kagitingan (Fiery Cross), Zamora (Subi), McKennan (Hughes), Calderon (Cuarteron), Mabini (Johnson South), Burgos (Gaven) and Panganiban (Mischief). At first, the shabu was cooked in mainland China, later relegated to erstwhile opium makers in the Golden Triangle of Thailand, Laos and Myanmar.

Shabu trafficking thrives to this day, notwithstanding troll hossanas to President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs. The market remains big: three million hardcore addicts. In November 2019, then-PNP Drug Enforcement Group head Gen. Romeo Caramat said each snorted one gram of shabu a week. That’s a staggering three million grams – 3,000 kilos or three tons. Value: P25 billion a week, Caramat said.

Only a fraction has been interdicted by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. From July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2019, its #RealNumbersPH reported 4,409 kilos of shabu seized. That’s only a week-and-a-half’s consumption confiscated in 156 weeks, with 7,000 killed, including lawmen.

During that same period, PDEA dismantled 14 clandestine shabu labs; hardly any remain today because they are easily detectable by foul odor fumes. Easier to sneak in shabu by various means: inside printing machine cylinders, magnetic lifters, mannequins, tea bags. In the early 2000s, shabu was interspersed with CFL bulbs, which was why those retailed at giveaway P11 apiece. Narco-traffickers recently tried tapioca starch as decoy.

So why not also smuggled and over-imported agricultural products as fronts?

Sneaking in just one kilo of shabu, the size of a kilo-bag of sugar, can fetch a street value of P8 million. What more if by the ton, P8 billion. Same risks – life term, no bail – but infinitely bigger profit. No wonder.

Additional figures derive from Senate and House inquiries. The Senate hearing was by the Committee of the Whole because of multi-departmental concerns: agriculture, health, trade, finance, Customs, BIR, justice and national security. Senate President Tito Sotto elicited that Customs confiscated 542 shipments worth P1.99 billion since 2016.

That’s only one-twentieth of the annual P40-billion smuggling of produce. “Alay lang ’yan,” party-list Rep. Jericho Nograles (Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta) told Sapol-dwIZ Saturday. “Smugglers sacrificed the nearly P2-billion shipments, for crooked officials to have something to show for it, but quietly sneaked in the higher volume.” He cited figures from Federation of Free Farmers chairman Leonardo Montemayor. Since 2013, the smugglers’ shipment declarations to Customs were invariably much lower than records from Chinese and ASEAN ports of origin. Most were even misdeclared, like white onion passed off as green for animal feed but sold to consumers. Or well-milled, long-grain rice disguised as 100-percent broken, also for feeds.

This can go on if China’s candidates for president and VP win. Leading in preferential surveys, they vow to continue present programs. Meaning retain crooked officials, bribing racketeers and kinsmen-protectors. China’s drugging of Filipinos will worsen.

AGRICULTURE

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