MANILA, Philippines — Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel is pushing to amend Republic Act 10845, or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act, to give the legislation more bite and eliminate obstacles to prosecuting large-scale agricultural smugglers.
Pimentel broached the idea during Tuesday’s hearing of the Senate committees on justice and human rights, and agriculture, food, and agrarian reform, on the proposed measure seeking to establish anti-agricultural smuggling courts.
“I noticed that we at the legislature wrote in the law ‘…as valued by the Bureau of Customs.’ So if this is becoming an obstacle for efficiency, maybe we can either remove this or add flexibility so we can also allow the Department of Agriculture to put a value to these smuggled agricultural products,” he said partly in Filipino.
Under RA 10845, the crime of large-scale agricultural smuggling is deemed economic sabotage if it is worth at least P1 million for sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish, and cruciferous vegetables, and a minimum of P10 million for rice “as valued by the BOC.”
The value, Pimentel noted, may be aligned with the cost of the agricultural commodity in Philippine markets on the day it was attempted to be smuggled.
But if the contraband goods have no local counterpart, the legislator said there might be a way to ask for its value from the country of origin.
“We should be open to that…we are really totally dependent on the BOC and if the trust of the author of the measure on the BOC is not that high, maybe we can put some flexibility like what I said – we allow other agencies or departments to cooperate and put a valuation,” he pressed.
Later, Philippine Judges Association (PJA) judge Pia Bersamin-Embuscado backed Pimentel’s recommendation.
“I think that should also be part of the amendment because it gives too much leeway to the BOC when it comes to valuation,” she said.
Penalize refusal to prosecute
Pimentel also pushed to “add a specific crime to the law like refusal to prosecute large-scale agricultural smuggling.”
Asked who will be made liable under this offense, he said it would be the legal departments, even prosecutors of the Department of Justice (DOJ), depending on the evidence.
For example, Pimentel said, the BOC would forward incomplete documents for the preliminary investigation of the DOJ.
“There are now delaying tactics or refusal to cooperate. It’s possible,” he pointed out.
Among other acts Pimentel said could be considered under such a crime is a valuation “totally without any basis or totally arbitrary – not reflective of the true amount of the smuggled goods so that the value given is less than the threshold amounts in the law.”
According to the DOJ, only nine of 159 large-scale anti-agricultural smuggling cases were filed in court between 2016 and February 2023.
Seventy-six, or about 48 percent of the total cases, have so far been dismissed after prosecutors found no probable cause.
Review implementing rules, regulations
Pimentel called on the Senate panel to review the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of RA 10845.
The senator said this after Assistant Solicitor General Bernard Hernandez pointed out that despite it being a “very short law,” there seem to be details left out of the IRR “which made it difficult to prosecute.”
PJA Judge Elisa Sarmiento-Flores supported this, saying the IRR of RA 10845 only states that “the Bureau shall, after due investigation, file appropriate criminal charges against those who committed any of the prohibited acts” under the law.
“It’s vague. There are no particular time, period, or pieces of evidence mentioned, including the valuation…If we could create a law, amending the current RA 10845, providing the period, particularly with the filing of the case, perhaps, it can help with the speedy disposition of the case,” she said.
Senator Francis Tolentino, who presided over the hearing, noted that cases such as this pushed him to propose in the previous Congress the creation of a body tasked to study the IRRs of laws.
READ: Senators vent exasperation with IRRs ‘mangling’ laws
“It’s wrong to include things not embedded in the law into the IRR without any form of accountability,” he said.
Judge wants tax court division to deal with agri smuggling cases
Villar says smugglers should be jailed: ‘Kahit hindi masentensyahan’
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