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Consumer group pushes tougher anti-agri smuggling bill

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Consumer group Rights Action Philippines (RAP) yesterday backed proposals to help curb the smuggling of agricultural products that hurt Filipino consumers and steals billions of pesos from government.

Consumer activist and RAP president Rey Dulay urged lawmakers to push for the passage of the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016 (House Bill 3917 and Senate Bill 1812) to strengthen the existing Republic Act (RA) 10845 which classifies large-scale smuggling of commodities such as sugar, corn, pork, and vegetables as economic sabotage, with a minimum penalty of P1 million and imprisonment of not less than 17 years.

HB 3917 and SB 1812 expand the coverage to include raw and finished tobacco in the list of agricultural products given protection against big-time smuggling.

HB 3917 is authored by House Senior Deputy Majority Leader and Ilocos Norte 1st District Representative Sandro A. Marcos and Assistant Majority Leader and PBA Party-List Representative Margarita Nograles. It was passed by an overwhelming 225 votes in the lower chamber in December, 2022. Senator Lito Lapid authored SB 1812 to advocate the passage of the bill in the Upper House.

“The massive smuggling and distribution of illegal tobacco products goes against the rights of consumers against unsafe products and deceptive business practices. It is damaging the government’s national health agenda of curbing tobacco use among Filipinos, especially the youth, since it allows easier access to cheap and sub-standard tobacco products,” Dulay stressed.

Smuggled cigarettes cost as low as P30 to P35 per pack, making it easier for minors to buy. Compared with legal, tax-paid cigarettes which sell for over P100 per pack. Onsite and online, many retailers carrying illegal tobacco products are found to sell to minors.

Furthermore, studies have shown that smuggled and illegally manufactured cigarettes have more chemicals and have been found to contain insect parts, rat droppings, and even human waste since there is no quality control.

RAP stressed that tobacco smuggling impacts every Filipino. Estimated revenue losses by Congress and the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) range from P60 billion to P100 billion yearly. Revenues from the tobacco industry fund the National Health Insurance Program (PhilHealth).

Furthermore, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), over 17 million Filipinos are “engaged in agricultural activities.” The National Tobacco Administration (NTA) estimates that 2.2 million people depend on the tobacco industry, while data from the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) indicate that around 6 million are indirectly employed by the sugar industry.

“RAP supports proposals to strengthen the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling law since it promotes basic consumer rights. We laud the efforts of Cong. Marcos and Sen. Lapid for pushing this bill to protect and benefit millions of Filipinos. Mabuhay po kayo!,” Dulay ended.

Rights Action Philippines is a multi-sectoral organization formed in February 2019 that aims to promote, protect and fight for the welfare of the consumers. As a consumer advocacy organization, we will prioritize gut issues that directly affect the rights of mostly ordinary Filipinos, especially their rights to better education, improved transportation, affordable housing, fuel and cheaper basic goods and services, efficient & corruption-free bureaucracy and clean environment. Please visit our website https://rightsactionph.org/ and join our advocacy on https://www.facebook.com/groups/rightsactionphilippines.

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