MANILA, Philippines — Local farmers based in La Trinidad, Benguet are now losing P2.5 million a day after more smuggled carrots entered the market this year, a group told lawmakers on Monday.
“Starting last year, the decline of our orders coming from the different key markets declined to 20 to 40%. Last year, it was only 20%, but this year, because the volume of the smuggled carrots doubled,” Agot Balanoy, the public relations officer of the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Areas, said in a mix of English and Filipino during the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing.
“So the monetary value of this percentage at an average is equivalent to P2.5 million per day, which is a loss on the part of the farmers,” she added.
Less consumers are buying carrots from local vegetable growers since they prefer to buy the smuggled ones from China, Balanoy noted.
“According to the consumers, the China carrots can be stored for two months and it will not be destroyed while our Benguet carrots are easily destroyed within two to three days,” she said, adding that farmers sometimes have to resort to dumping their unsold produce or giving them away for free.
At present, it costs P25 to produce a kilo of carrots, Balanoy said.
In response, Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, who chairs the Committee of the Whole, explained that imported carrots such as the ones originating from China may contain chemicals like formalin, which can explain why they have longer shelf lives.
DA says it can’t monitor imports in real-time
Sotto, in his privilege speech delivered during the hearing, noted that the Senate panel has heard of inconsistencies between the Department of Agriculture (DA’s) and Bureau of Customs’ (BOC’s) agricultural import records.
During the probe, an official from the DA said they cannot conduct the real-time monitoring of imports since their database is still not fully automated. Right now, the DA relies instead on the details on import permits, according to the agency’s assistant secretary Federico Laciste Jr.
“What we can’t do is real-time [monitoring] of records…[Our system] is not yet automated,” Laciste said in Filipino.
There are times when an importer may not import the exact number of goods listed in his or her permit, BOC Assistant Commissioner Atty. Vincent Maronilla explained.
In a chance interview in the afternoon, Sotto said that the automation of records-keeping systems will deter smugglers, but the quickest solution is to ensure that government officials shape up or “magpakatino.”
Asked about how the Senate can curb smuggling, Sotto said that they can always make an appeal but it is up to the Executive department to decide on what to do next.
“It should be the Office of the President no less should set the foot down on this issue of smuggling in the Bureau of Customs and Department of Agriculture. We were opened to smuggling because of the decision to import,” Sotto said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Last month, groups criticized the DA for reportedly failing to prevent smuggling which has taken a toll on the livelihoods of farmers and fisherfolk.