The House Committee on Agriculture and Food on Wednesday approved an unnumbered substitute bill declaring large-scale agri-fishery commodities and tobacco smuggling, profiteering, cartelizing, and other acts of market abuse as economic sabotage.
House Committee on Agriculture and Food chairman Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga said the unnumbered substitute bill, which will be known as the Anti-Agri-fishery Commodities and Tobacco Economic Sabotage Act of 2023, would amend Republic Act (RA) 10845, or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016, to include the smuggling of agri-fishery commodities and tobacco products as economic sabotage.
According to Enverga, the measure would expand the prohibited acts to include hoarding, profiteering, and cartelizing and provide for stiffer penalties.
He said the proposal would create a task force under the Department of Justice and a council for the effective implementation of this measure.
Nueva Ecija Rep. Mikaela Angela Suansing, chairperson of the technical working group, said the measure is a priority of the administration, which President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. mentioned in his 2023 State of the Nation Address.
The bill refers to economic sabotage as any act or activities that undermine, weaken, or render into disrepute the economic system or viability of the country or tend to bring about such effects, particularly for this proposal.
The measure added that the crime of large-scale agri-fishery commodities or tobacco smuggling as economic sabotage involves agri-fishery commodities in their raw state or which have undergone the simple processes of preparation or preservation for the market, such as freezing, drying, salting, broiling, roasting, smoking, or stripping, with a minimum aggregate fair market value of P1 million, or involving tobacco with a minimum of excise tax and VAT payable in the amount of P1 million.
It said agri-fishery commodities refer, but are not limited, to rice, sugar, corn, pork, poultry, beef, lamb, garlic, onion, carrots, cruciferous vegetables, coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, palm olein, wheat, fish, and shellfish.
The bill provides a penalty of life imprisonment and a fine of six times the fair market value of agri-fishery commodities or tobacco subject to large-scale smuggling, hoarding, profiteering, cartelizing, and other acts of market abuse, and the aggregate amount of the taxes, duties, and other charges avoided plus interest at the prevailing legal rate shall be imposed on entities who commit any of the acts numerated under this proposal.
Also, the measure added that the penalty of imprisonment of not less than 30 years but not more than 40 years and a fine six times the fair market value of agri-fishery commodities or tobacco subject to large-scale smuggling, hoarding, profiteering, cartelizing, and other acts of market abuse and the aggregate amount the taxes, duties, and other charges avoided plus the interest at the prevailing legal rate shall be imposed on entities who knowingly sell, lend, lease, assign, consent, or allow the unauthorized use of their import permits for purposes of large-scale smuggling, hoarding, profiteering, cartelizing, or the other acts of market abuse.
Meanwhile, Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez assured this bill would be approved by the lower chamber before its break on September 27.
In the Senate, Agriculture panel chair Senator Cynthia A. Villar was kept busy on Wednesday replying to colleagues’ interpellations on her bill categorizing farm smuggling and hoarding as an act of economic sabotage, after she noted that nota single violator has been jailed since the passage of an earlier law.
Sen. Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Committee on Agriculture, Food, and Agrarian Reform, fielded questions from Senate Deputy Minority Leader Risa Hontiveros during the interpellation period on Senate Bill (SB) 2432, also known as the Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Act last Wednesday. Among the questions asked by Hontiveros was the inclusion of tobacco in the list of agricultural products covered by SB 2432, considering that it is not related to food security and not even an agricultural commodity.
Villar noted that tobacco is defined by the World Health Organization and classified under the customs code as an agricultural product. She added that aside from undermining the country’s campaign against smoking, tobacco smuggling reduces government revenue.