Fertile Ground

War on Smuggling: PBBM’s Legacy

Duterte had his War on Drugs, Marcos Jr. has a War on Smuggling. Can he save The Philippines and cement his family's legacy?

Onion cartels, a sugar crisis, and now the largest seizure of smuggled cigarettes in Philippine history – these are just three of the biggest headlines from Year One in the PBBM administration’s war on smuggling.

Call it foresight or courage, that a then-newly elected President Bongbong Marcos dared spearhead the Department of Agriculture. He will need both to fight this battle.

With a little help from my friends

10 months in, and it seems the pressure has not ceased on Marcos. Early on, the president’s sister, Senator Imee, already urged a heavier hand on smuggling. As weeks went by, Senator Marcos, landed her own punch on the Department of Agriculture (DA). This was amid the perceived onion shortage in the middle of 2022.

Today, lawmakers across the aisle, even close allies like Senator Cynthia Villar (and not-so-close such as Senator Koko Pimentel), continue to be alarmed by the country’s persistent smuggling problem. Villar has gone as far as pushing for stricter penalties, even decrying the Bureau of Customs’ red tape and inefficiency.

Meanwhile, in the lower chamber, no less than the president’s son, Deputy Majority Leader Sandro Marcos has made a move. The younger Marcos is co-author to a bill seeking to consider tobacco smuggling as economic sabotage. House Bill 3917: an amendment of Republic Act 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016 – would declare “the smuggling of tobacco, whether manufactured or unmanufactured, as economic sabotage and a non-bailable offense.”

This in turn, as the elder Villar senator intends, would put “more teeth” on the law, and strike “more fear” in the hearts of smugglers.

The war has started

On the ground, the BOC seems determined to keep its anti-smuggling efforts going. What the agency may lack in arrests, it does seem to make up for in the quantity of goods seized. More importantly, increased coordination between relevant agencies such as the Department of Justice, the DA, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and our boots on the ground – the police, coast guard, etc. – is the improvement we need now if we are truly serious in winning this war.

Good for consumers, good for farmers

Ultimately, the war on smuggling, if won, will bring benefits to both producers and consumers. With smuggled agricultural goods undercutting prices of local farmers, the effects on the sector continue to be dire. And the cheaper options being made available to buyers? Dangerous for consumption, without their phytosanitary clearance, sure. Even worse, integral to a perpetuating culture of cheating a government struggling to recover in a time of economic crisis. In the end, we all lose.

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Weak leader or not?

So, yes, we want to win the war on smuggling as it is best for our country and our people. It would also be a convenient legacy-cementing accomplishment for President Marcos. Perhaps, it could be him who can bring solutions to an age-old problem. Then he could prove everyone wrong, particularly those who questioned his competence. If Marcos brings an end to the Philippines’ smuggling crisis, then he is no weak leader, after all.

We are behind you 100% Mr. President! And to the Bureau of Customs, and other agencies! To all our brave men and women on the frontlines of this war – we salute you!

As of Monday the 11th of December, the Senate has approved the proposed Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Act.

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