THE House of Representatives approved on third reading a bill expanding the definition of acts classified as economic sabotage, though the measure also raised the valuation threshold for imposing the stiffest penalties.
At a plenary session on Wednesday, 289 legislators voted in favor of House Bill No. 9284, with none against nor abstaining.
The measure, which proposes to amend Republic Act No. 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act, expands the definition of economic sabotage to include hoarding, profiteering and cartel behavior in the trading of agri-fishery and tobacco products.
“By expanding the acts prosecutable as economic sabotage, imposing heavier penalties and reducing the threshold for large-scale smuggling, we are sending a strong message that these illicit activities will not be tolerated,” House Agriculture and Food panel chairman and Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark M. Enverga said in a statement.
The current law only considers large-scale smuggling of agricultural commodities to be acts of economic sabotage.
Under the proposed amendment, large-scale smuggling that constitutes to economic sabotage will include shipments of agricultural and fishery commodities with a fair-market value of P2.5 million, up from P1 million in a previous version of the bill, as well as shipments of tobacco products with a minimum excise tax and value-added tax payable of P1 million.
The proposed law gives entities five days to produce evidence that will head off the seizure and forfeiture of the goods.
The bill also proposes to imprison accomplices and public officials implicated in acts of smuggling for up to 20 years, against the current 12-year maximum. They are also subject to a fine equivalent to six times the fine of the fair-market-value of the commodity. Accessories to the crime involved in the trucking and warehousing of the goods are subject to up to 20 years’ imprisonment.
Punishable acts include acting as a broker, agent, facilitator forwarder, and warehouse or cold storage lessor; allowing or approving imports not covered by a permit; allowing or granting any unlawful license, export clearance or permit; allowing the use of private ports, landing site or airport to perpetuate economic sabotage; and importing finished products like cigarettes, cigars and heated tobacco products that are not registered with the Internal Revenue bureau.
Under the bill, agri-fishery commodities include rice, sugar, corn, pork, poultry, beef, lamb, garlic, onion, carrots, cruciferous vegetables, coconut, coconut oil, palm oil, palm olein, wheat, fish, and shellfish. Tobacco products in the measure include manufactured and unmanufactured tobacco.
The proposed law also expands the list of agencies that can file cases to include the National Bureau of Investigation, the departments of Agriculture and Trade and Industry, and the Philippine Competition Commission. The current law only allows the Bureau of Customs (BoC) to charge smugglers.
Its counterpart bill in the Senate is still in the period of amendments.
“Under the amended bill, smuggling will be (monitored by officials) under the President himself and a council to be formed that will supervise its functions, not just the BoC,” Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura Executive Director Jayson H. Cainglet said via Viber.
“Once this bill is enacted, we will use its provisions to the fullest in order to prosecute these evil-doers,” House Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez said in a statement.
The bill is a priority measure of the Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council and is targeted for approval by December. — Beatriz Marie D. Cruz