Senator Imee Marcos, picking up the cudgels for local vegetable traders, is poised to open a deeper inquiry into the suspected economic sabotage involving “untimely and excessive” importation of vegetables from China, resulting in  “rotting local produce” harvested from Benguet and other farms in Cordillera.

As chairperson of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs, Marcos is paving the way for a Senate scrutiny to ferret out vegetable importers and officials in the Department of Agriculture (DA) and Bureau of Customs (BOC) suspected to be involved in agricultural smuggling.

“We don’t learn; it (veggie smuggling) happened before,” Marcos said, recalling that “the same thing occurred in 2020 and the DA was provided with Kadiwa trucks,” as well as personnel and funds to buy the vegetable and pork supply from local traders.

Marcos wondered aloud: “Why does the DA still refuse to buy Filipino? Why do they favor imported goods? Is it true they’ve already changed their name to Department of Importation, instead of Agriculture?”

The lawmaker lamented that local farmers have been battered by the pandemic and crippled by debt while their harvests have been left unsold. “Their vegetables would not have been left to rot and discarded and could have benefited Metro Manila, if only the DA were more proactive,” she added.

Moreover, she reminded concerned authorities that “smuggling of agricultural products is a form of economic sabotage and is punishable under the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016, or Republic Act 10845.”

In a news statement issued on Friday, Marcos noted that as local farmers bewailed the dearth of buyers and quarantine restrictions turning fewer deliveries into spoiled goods, the BOC confiscated P4.7 million worth of imported cabbage, carrots, broccoli and other vegetables during a raid on Thursday in Divisoria and other parts of Tondo, Manila.

At the same time, she added, at least eight metric tons of tomatoes from Ifugao have also been dumped, sold at a loss to hog and duck raisers, or plowed back into farms because of the DA’s “lack of foresight.”

In an earlier story in BusinessMirror, however, the DA explained that the dumping of 6,000 kilos of tomatoes in Ifugao was not the result of an oversupply but by the non-arrival of buyers, who were barred from entering the area due to a “no vaccination, no entry” policy enforced by local government units.

DA officials said, “As a way forward, the agency will coordinate” with the LGUs to “use Kadiwa trucks for the transporting and marketing of tomatoes, and coordinate with the DA-AMAS to look for more markets.”

Marcos, meanwhile, suggested that “the DA needs to eat more local vegetables as its management remains sluggish, even as she wondered: “Why are the Kadiwa centers not running continuously and only used as a stop-gap measure when the problem is already there?”

Marcos maintained, “protecting our local farmers is the solution to long-term national food security, not the importation of agricultural produce, legal as that may be.”

Image courtesy of Nonie Reyes

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