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Tobacco farmers: Enact laws vs anti-agricultural smuggling

By Rhaydz B. Barcia


LEGAZPI CITY --- In a bid to shield the livelihoods of 50,000 tobacco farmers from smuggling activities, the Philippine Tobacco Growers Association (PTGA) and the National Federation of Tobacco Farmers Association and Cooperatives (NAFTAC) have made an impassioned plea to the Senate, urging the immediate passage of Senate Bill 2432, titled the “Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Act.”


PTGA President, Saturnino Distor, underscored the pressing need for equal protection across all agricultural sectors, emphasizing the looming threat posed by relentless smuggling, which imperils the income and sustenance of local farmers and their numerous dependents.


Distor, representing the combined membership of almost 50,000, implored the Senate to swiftly approve Senate Bill 2432, sponsored by Senator Cynthia A. Villar, aimed at safeguarding the agricultural sector. The bill specifically targets the ongoing smuggling of agricultural goods, including tobacco, which has been undermining the economic stability of these industries.


Highlighting the broader impact, Distor emphasized the vital role of the tobacco industry in ensuring food security, as many farmers rely on tobacco cultivation alongside staple crops such as rice and corn.


“Millions of Filipinos depend on the tobacco industry to sustain their families during non-planting seasons for crops like corn and rice. The unrelenting smuggling of illegal cigarettes is detrimental to the farmers’ livelihoods,” asserted Distor in a released statement.


Echoing these sentiments, Bernard Vicente, Chairman of NAFTAC, raised concerns over the infiltration of illegal cigarettes in various provinces, which has significantly disrupted the demand for locally produced tobacco, thereby affecting tobacco farmers’ incomes.


Citing a study conducted by the University of Asia and the Pacific, Vicente highlighted that nearly one out of every five cigarettes sold in the country originates from illicit sources, indicating a staggering 17% infiltration rate.


“Our livelihoods are slowly being eroded by cigarette smuggling. We stand united with other agricultural sectors in urging the Senate to pass this bill, as its enactment would greatly benefit us by curbing cigarette smuggling,” emphasized Vicente in Filipino.


Emphasizing the scale of dependency on the local tobacco sector, Vicente revealed that over 3 million Filipinos rely on the industry for their livelihoods. However, both PTGA and NAFTAC expressed disappointment at the opposition faced by the bill from certain groups.


Additionally, the proposed legislation is not only seen as a means to aid tobacco farmers in supporting their families but also as a revenue source for the government and a means to fund public health services under the Department of Health and PhilHealth’s universal health care initiatives.


Under Senator Villar’s proposed law, actions such as smuggling, hoarding, profiteering, and cartel activities related to agricultural products would be considered acts of economic sabotage, carrying severe penalties including non-bailable offenses, increased jail terms, and hefty fines.


Senator Villar referenced data from the Samahang Industiya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), estimating an annual revenue loss of at least P200 billion due to smuggling. Notably, the bill encompasses measures aimed at curbing tobacco smuggling, which contributes to an estimated loss of around P25 billion in excise taxes alone.


The proceeds from tobacco excise taxes, mandated by Republic Act No. 11346, are allocated for various purposes, including the Universal Health Care, DOH-Health Facilities Enhancement Program, and distribution to tobacco-producing regions and the national budget.


In a concerning trend, tobacco excise taxes witnessed a decline to P160 billion in 2022, down from the previous year’s P176 billion, marking the first decrease in recent years. This decline has primarily been attributed to the prevalence of illegal cigarettes, significantly impacting government revenues.


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