THE Philippine Senate has alleged that high-ranking government officials, including yet-unnamed politicians, are behind the illegal importation of vegetables from China that has been causing severe damage to the local industry.
The Senate Committee of the Whole has resumed its investigation into the issue of vegetable smuggling, which was brought up in December of last year by Senate President Vicente Sotto III.
Senators grilled the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) on their supposed failure to stop the smuggling of vegetables, even after Sotto’s privilege speech that raised the smuggling as a critical issue in the senate.
“We have a situation where agencies take no action even when smuggling is brazenly committed. So aside from the fact that the BOC and the DA have been compromised, there are untouchables,” said Sen. Francis Pangilinan.
“Those involved must be close to the powers that be, which is why we now have this situation,” Pangilinan added.
Agriculture Assistant Secretary Federico Laciste Jr. confirmed before the Senate that “big-time” personalities were behind the illegal trade, saying that “highly placed” individuals have called him to drop the charges, but also hesitated to name names, seeking to reveal them in executive session, a proposal which was shot down.
“We at the (DA) will act swiftly and decisively to reprimand those involved among our ranks, officials, and staff. If found guilty, we will file the appropriate administrative charges against these individuals,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar said in a statement.
Sotto also warned the public against the consumption of imported Chinese vegetables, which last for months as opposed to days compared to local produce, suggesting the possibility of the use of toxic formalin or formaldehyde preservatives.
“We haven’t accredited vegetables from China to enter our country. We only allow fruits from China,” Laciste told the Senate hearing.
Senators also pointed out that officials have failed to sort out the discrepancies in the volume of import products based on issued permits, and the actual volume of imports, a supposed indication that they did not want confirmation of import volume.