Aquino’s predicament: The agriculture smuggling bill
President Aquino is in a quandary on whether to sign into law the large-scale-agriculture-smuggling-as-economic-sabotage bill that is pending on his desk, former budget secretary Benjamin Diokno said.
In his column published in Malaya Business Insight, Diokno said Aquino’s action on the bill will reveal his “true colors.”
If the President vetoes the bill, Diokno said Aquino would reveal that he does not really care for farmers and fishermen.
“In addition, it would show that he does not mind going down in Philippine history as the President who condoned big-time smuggling of agricultural products,” he said.
“If Mr. Aquino approves the bill into law, or at least passively let the bill to lapse into law, it would show that he’s aware of the negative effects of rampant smuggling on the economy, on local producers and investors, and on the rural poor, and that he’s willing to run after smugglers in his final days in office,” he added.
Diokno said smuggling was worst under Aquino’s administration, retarding agricultural production and manufacturing, as well as increasing income inequality.
He said because of smuggling, agriculture grew by 1.6 percent on average annually for the past five years, even stagnating last year.
He said smuggling under Aquino averaged $19.6 billion annually, “an explosion from the comparable figures of $3.1 billion and $3.8 billion yearly during the terms of Presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, respectively.”
He said the revenue losses deprive government of funding needs to render services such as public infrastructure, education, health and other public goods.
The bill that Congress sent to Malacanang considers smuggling of sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish and cruciferous vegetables amounting to at least P1 million as economic sabotage.
It also raised penalties on smuggling of rice amounting to P10 million.
The bill imposes imprisonment of 17 to 20 years on illegal importers of agricultural products.
Public officials or employees caught conniving with smugglers will be dismissed from public office and banned from voting.