Press Release
April 29, 2016

Recto to P-Noy: Sign anti-smuggling law as part of Labor Day package

Protect local jobs, and let families of overseas workers enjoy the fruits of their loved ones' labor.

This, according to Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, should prompt President Aquino in signing the Congress-approved Customs Modernization and Tariff Act (CMTA) as part of his Labor Day package for Filipino workers.

"Labor Day is the perfect time for the President to sign the CMTA. The new law will not only protect local jobs from smugglers, it will also bring delight to families of our OFWs who wish to send more 'pasalubong' for their loved ones in the Philippines," Recto said.

The CMTA is a bill reforming customs and port procedures, with "a raft of measures" aimed at stamping out smuggling and other anomalies at the Bureau of Customs (BOC) by making BOC processes "simple, streamlined, transparent and fast."

The bill, whose final draft both houses of Congress ratified before lawmakers began a three-month election break last February, also imposes longer imprisonment, of up to a lifetime, and higher fines, of up to P50 million, for smugglers and their coddlers in government, Recto said.

Section 1401 of CMTA slaps a minimum jail time of 31 days to six months or a fine of not less than P25,000 but not more than P75,000, or both, if the appraised value of the smuggled goods does not exceed P250,000.

If the value of smuggled items exceeds P200 million, guilty parties will be sentenced to life imprisonment on top of a fine of not less than P50M, Recto said.

Customs officials extorting from shippers or consignees would face a penalty of six years to 12 years imprisonment and fine of P500,000 to P1 million.

Additional penalties, Recto explained, include forfeiture of all benefits due from service in government as well as perpetual disqualification to hold public office, from exercising the right to vote and to participate in any public election.

These sanctions are the "fear factor" which we hope will discourage smuggling, Recto said.

But the measure approved by Congress does not only jack up penalties, but also "modernizes Customs operations, computerizes all aspects of transactions, simplifies rules, and expedites the issuance of import clearances and valuation of goods as well," Recto said.

One section of the proposed law provides that goods declaration shall be submitted electronically pursuant to the Electronic Commerce Act of 2000, Recto said.

The CMTA mandates the use of modern information and communications technology to speed up and simplify BOC procedures, he added.

Hopefully this and other measures would allow easy tracking and monitoring of goods, Recto said. "It would also empower concerned parties to red flag suspicious shipments."

The effect of smuggling to local employment was brought to Recto's attention by a big national alliance of pork producers who threatened to stage a "pork holiday" last February due to government fail to curb pork smuggling.

Led by the Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines Inc. (Pro-Pork) and Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura-National Federation of Hog Farmers Inc. (NFHFI), swine farmers are complaining that tens of millions of kilos of imported pork meat are misdeclared as offal, fats, rind and skin.

The latter fetches a lower tariff rate of 5 percent to 10 percent as compared to the 40 percent tariff on pork meat.

The group also wants the strict enforcement of the "quarantine first policy," and 100-percent quarantine test and inspection at the port of first entry on all meat imports with declared 5-10 percent tariff.

Recto also backed the group's appeal that President Aquino signs into law a separate bill treating large-scale smuggling of farm products as economic sabotage.

The bill hurdled the Senate in October 2015 while the House followed suit last month. "This and the CMTA are a one-two punch that can bring down smuggling," Recto said.

Also in the CMTA is the provision raising to P150,000 the value of a balikbayan for it to be tax -exempt.

Recto filed the BBL or Balikbayan Box Law in August last year after a public outcry against a BOC decision to open balikbayan boxes based on outdated regulations.

Recto's "BBL" was later incorporated into Section 800 of CMTA which allows the sending of balikbayan boxes a maximum of three times in a calendar year, provided that the value of each shipment shall not exceed P150,000.

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