The House of Representatives has approved on third and final reading the measure strengthening the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act by imposing the penalty of life imprisonment on smugglers of agricultural products.
With 289 affirmative votes, lawmakers passed late Tuesday House Bill (HB) 9284, or the Anti-Agri-fishery Commodities and Tobacco Economic Sabotage Act of 2023, which has been certified as urgent by the President.
The bill will be transmitted to the Senate for its own deliberations.
HB 9284 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.
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 crimes of large-scale agri-fishery commodities or tobacco hoarding, profiteering, cartelizing, and other acts of market abuse as economic sabotage, involving 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 P2.5 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.
The bill proposes increased penalties, including a minimum imprisonment period of 20 years (up from the current 12 years) and a monetary fine of six times the fair market value of the commodities involved in illicit activities (up from the current two times). Public officials, individuals, cooperatives, associations, corporations, and non-government organizations directly involved in or facilitating smuggling, hoarding, profiteering, and cartelizing of agri-fishery commodities and tobacco may face 20 years to life imprisonment.
The bill also establishes the Anti-Agro Fishery Commodities and Tobacco Economic Sabotage Council to oversee the implementation of the law.
Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said this bill will help realize President Marcos’ aspirations of affordable produce and food self-sufficiency, saying “Its unanimous passage speaks volumes.”
Image credits: Nonie Reyes