MANILA, Philippines – A lawmaker proposed on Monday, January 23, to compel 10 individuals to face the House ways and means panel and respond to allegations that they are involved in large-scale agricultural smuggling in Philippine ports.
Sultan Kudarat 2nd District Representative Horacio Suansing Jr. initially called on the committee to issue a subpoena against the following brokers, importers, and facilitators:
- Michael Ma
- Lujene Ang
- Andrew Chang
- Beverly Peres
- a certain “Aaron”
- Manuel Tan
- Leah Cruz
- Jun Diamante
- Lucio Lim
- Gerry Teves
Based on a copy of a speech provided to the media by Suansing’s office, the 10 individuals had links either to the Port of Manila, Manila International Container Port, or Bureau of Customs (BOC).
“It is the main objective of this inquiry to uncover the unscrupulous activities of officials and personnel of the Bureau of Customs and of the Department of Agriculture (DA), who have enabled and expedited widespread agricultural product smuggling into the Philippines,” Suansing said.
Later in the ways and means panel hearing, Albay 2nd District Representative Joey Salceda, the committee chairman, granted a verbal motion by Suansing to invite the individuals to the committee’s next hearing.
Salceda’s staff explained to Rappler that under the rules, “there should be at least two meetings where the invitee did not honor the invitation,” before subpoenas can be issued. A committee chairperson recommends the issuance of subpoenas, which are then signed by the House Speaker.
Suansing also asked the concerned agencies to provide records on the following consignees:
- Victory JM Enterprises
- Taculog International Consumer Goods Trading
- Asterzenmed Aggregates
- Veneta Consumer Goods Trading
- Lalavy Aggregates Trading
- Frankie Trading Enterprises
- Primex Export-Import Producer
- SB Express Logistics Business Solution
- Silver Pop Dry Goods Trading
- Thousand Sunny Enterprises
- Viogelas Viol Aggregates Trading
- Junezone Dry Goods Trading
- Burias Jang Consumer Goods Trading
In his presentation, Salceda sounded the alarm on agricultural smuggling in the Philippines, which he said has seen an uptrend since the start of the pandemic, and has cost the country P5.3 billion in lost duties.
He noted that the prices of onion, sugar, pork, beef, and chicken in Philippine markets are significantly more expensive than the prevailing world prices.
Specifically, the price of onion in the Philippines is 457% more costly than the global average.
The BOC told the House committee that the agency recorded 53 arrests for onion smuggling in 2022 alone. It has filed 15 criminal complaints as of 2023, all of which are still under preliminary investigation.
“Smuggling will really proliferate because we are still in the preliminary investigation phase. We are not able to go after anyone,” Brosas said.
The DA, headed by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has approved the importation of 21,060 metric tons of onions to address the onion crisis.
But this has caused extreme stress to local farmers, who said the poor timing of the move would allow traders to use the “import card” as a bargaining chip in order to buy onions from farmers at a price that would hurt them.