May 19, 2024

Four high-profile personalities, allegedly involved in fruits and vegetable smuggling, were revealed in the Senate Committee of the Whole hearing on April 12.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III verified with the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA) the names Manuel Tan who allegedly operates in Subic, Cagayan de Oro, and Batangas; Andrew Chang in Subic, Manila International Container Port (MICP), Port of Manila, and Batangas; Leah “Luz” Cruz, the “Onion Queen” who allegedly operates in MICP and Cagayan de Oro City; and a certain Jun Diamante, who allegedly smuggles agri-fishery products in Cagayan de Oro City.
NICA Sub-Task Group on Economic Intelligence (STG-EI) focal person, Director Edsel Batalla, confirmed the names Sotto mentioned are on their list that includes more than 20 others.
“With all due respect, I cannot divulge other names because I am not in the position to disclose as these are classified information. But again, this has to be validated and it might cause undue embarrassment to those who are listed as smugglers, and players, and protectors,” he said.
Batalla assured NICA will provide the Senate with the information they have.
When asked by Sotto if the Bureau of Customs knows about the names he mentioned, Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero responded that some of them are familiar.
Based on the presentation of the Department of Justice, 103 cases related to food smuggling have been filed from 2016 to March 23.
Meanwhile, Department of Trade and Industry Consumer Protection Group Usec. Ruth Castello reported the STG-EI has confiscated food products amounting to more than P600 million from operations they have been conducting since February 2021.
STG-EI is an integrated regulatory enforcement group composed of the Department of Agriculture, BOC, DTI, NICA, and the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group mandated to enforce the law against the proliferation of smuggled agricultural products in the country.
DA Sec. William Dar, who was not in the hearing due to previous commitments, earlier said there should be a two-pronged approach to curb the illegal entry of agricultural products.
“Let us continue to intensify our border protection and coordination efforts with the Bureau of Customs and other agencies.  If there is misdeclaration, right there and then,  the goods should be held,” he said on April 6 during a meeting with key officials addressing agricultural smuggling.
He also warned erring DA officials and staff that they will be charged if found guilty of conniving with illegal importers and smugglers.
“Smugglers usually get away with their crime by passing through legal channels, using technical smuggling schemes, like misdeclaration, undervaluation, or misclassification. Let us strengthen the law by looking at the lapses where we can further improve the system. At the moment, only the BOC has the police power, but we can inspect and recommend to BOC confiscation of smuggled goods,” Dar said during the same meeting. – PNA