THE chair of the Senate agriculture and food committee said tobacco smuggling needs to be an economic sabotage-level offense, amid proposals to amend the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.
“We are amending the law which shall be known as the ‘Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Act of 2023.’ This will include the acts of hoarding, profiteering and cartelization in agricultural products as economic sabotage,” Senator Cynthia A. Villar said during the International Tobacco Agricultural Summit on Thursday.
“Tobacco is (to) be included in the agricultural products covered by this law,” she added.
Republic Act 10845 classifies large-scale agricultural smuggling as economic sabotage, a non-bailable offense.
The current threshold for economic sabotage is smuggling P1 million worth of sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish, and cruciferous vegetables. The threshold for rice is P10 million.
Ms. Villar said the Senate is also considering a bill establishing specialist courts to try agricultural smuggling, hoarding, profiteering, and cartelization cases.
“We hope to pass these laws before the year ends so we can finally witness the apprehension of smugglers and effectively combat the illicit trade in agricultural products, including tobacco,” Ms. Villar said.
“The tobacco industry plays a substantial role in the national economy, accounting for approximately 6% of tax revenue (in 2020),” she said.
Citing Euromonitor, she said illicit trade in tobacco is expected to account for 18.5% of the industry in 2023.
The National Tobacco Administration (NTA), an arm of the Department of Agriculture, is expecting foregone revenue from illicit tobacco trading to top P30 billion this year.
“It’s better that tobacco (is) included to minimize the decrease in taxes generated from the lawful trading of tobacco,” according to Giovanni B. Palabay, officer-in-charge deputy administrator at the NTA.
Better regulation of tobacco smuggling “could bring down (foregone revenue) for the government,” he said.
Mr. Palabay said that the NTA is working with the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Bureau of Customs to curb the illicit tobacco trade. — Luisa Maria Jacinta C. Jocson