Smuggling by Chinese mafia? | Inquirer Opinion

Smuggling by Chinese mafia?

/ 05:07 AM January 05, 2023

Citing “Class A information” from well-placed sources, Albay Rep. Joey Salceda declared with absolute certainty that a syndicate led by Chinese nationals has been behind the smuggling into the country of prime agricultural products, including red onions, which now cost three times more from last year and as much as 40 percent more than the price of prime cuts of beef.


“This mafia is in control of agricultural smuggling in the country at every stage of the smuggling process, from transport to arrival to import permits and sanitary inspection,” said Salceda, adding that “intelligence sources” identify the main characters as Chinese or their associates. “They have people in the ships, the ports, the inspections, the quarantines, the warehouses, and the economic zones. It’s very pervasive,” Salceda said. This mafia, he added, has been “strangling the supply” of major agricultural products, contributing to the surge in prices of basic goods and services to a 14-year high of 8 percent in November last year.

Recent raids by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) seem to bear this out. In just 42 days since Nov. 12 last year, the BOC seized 60 shipping containers of contraband agricultural products worth some P253 million, including red and white onions found in 25 of the flagged containers. A third of the containers intercepted at the Manila and Subic ports came from China, with the contents falsely declared as steamed buns and frozen seafood. In all, BOC Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz said, the bureau confiscated P23.5 billion worth of contraband, including various agricultural products, last year.


The issue of rampant smuggling from China should have been included in President Marcos Jr.’s three-day state visit to Beijing that concludes today. As pointed out by Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas chair Danilo Ramos, as concurrent secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Mr. Marcos should “diplomatically call the attention of Chinese authorities regarding the unbridled, large-scale smuggling of billions worth of vegetables from China.” After all, the President has said that he wants to fight the “double whammy” of high local prices of agricultural goods and the high incidence of smuggling that only benefits smugglers.

While Mr. Marcos may be reluctant to demand a more forceful action on this from China, considering that it is one of the country’s largest trade and investment partners, the extensive damage wrought by the illicit trade on our local economy cannot be ignored. Meanwhile, farmers in the Cordillera have seen as much as a 40-percent slash in daily orders of vegetables due to considerable vegetable smuggling from China, according to the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Areas.

The KMP claimed that the smuggling of onions from China has triggered an “alarming” rise in the local prices of onions, a necessary ingredient in many Filipino dishes.

Red onions are now retailing at an exorbitant P680 a kilo as of Jan. 4, according to the latest price monitoring report of the DA, skyrocketing from P220 on the same day last year.

Enlisting the help of the Chinese government is expected to dramatically reduce, if not eliminate, the flow of these illicit goods as China carries out “heavy-handed policies” against smuggling, according to Ramos. This should also lead to the apprehension of big-time Chinese smuggling syndicates working in cahoots with local smugglers.

As the Marcos Jr. administration leans on China to do its part, it should also exert its political will to harness the full force of government to follow through on Salceda’s findings and prosecute this Chinese mafia and its cohorts. Salceda’s revelations are not exactly new and yet, inexplicably, the perpetrators have remained unpunished.

Last year, former senate president Vicente Sotto III released a Senate investigation report listing 22 “persons of interest” involved in large-scale agricultural smuggling, including former customs chief Rey Leonardo Guerrero. The BOC reviewed as well 126 cases stemming from Republic Act No. 10845 that declared large-scale agricultural smuggling as economic sabotage. Such investigations have been frozen at the preliminary stage, however, according to the KMP. “No smugglers were charged … [which] only proves that there are untouchables who spearhead the extensive agricultural smuggling in the country,” noted KMP chair emeritus Rafael Mariano.


The DA has estimated that between 2019 and 2022 alone, P667.5 million worth of smuggled agri-fishery goods were seized. For its part, the BOC has conducted 542 operations that yielded P1.99 billion worth of agri products. Yet those involved have remained scot-free.

Mariano noted that as DA secretary, it is Mr. Marcos’ obligation and responsibility to dismantle the mafia behind the rampant smuggling of agricultural products, and go after erring government officials.

It is definitely another issue that the President must take up with Chinese President Xi Jinping if the country were to open a “new chapter” in the sometimes frosty, sometimes cozy, but always complicated, relationship with China.

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TAGS: Chinese, Joey Salceda, Mafia
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