Pia: is tobacco vital to food security?

Pia opposes the inclusion of tobacco in the list of agricultural products essential to food security under the proposed Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Act, an administration priority measure

Highlights of the interpellation of Senator Pia S. Cayetano

With the permission of the sponsor, may I ask some questions and clarifications?

Thank you. So the short title of this bill is, the ‘Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Act.’ May I know what laws we have in place that currently govern anything similar to agricultural economic sabotage, or maybe smuggling of agricultural prpducts? If that’s a better way of phrasing that question. What laws would govern that?

In terms of identifying or listing the agricultural products that would be imported and would be subject of a penalty, where would that current list be found? Is it in the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act?

But my question was, what is the current governing law? It’s the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act, that is the current law.

I am not yet there, I am just asking about the list of products. If I were to look for the list of products that would be subject of a penalty if these were imported without the proper permits, it would be here in the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act, correct?

I am looking at that list, and it mentions: sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrots, fish, and cruciferous vegetables… Am I correct that there are currently nine agricultural products that are subject of this Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016? At the end, it says rice, so ten, including rice.

And there is no other law that penalizes the smuggling of these agricultural products. In other words, wala na akong hahanapin na iba pa, dito ko makikita ang listahang yan. It is ten, correct?

In your existing bill, what other products were added to this list? Kasi you said you have 14 so ano yung apat?

I’d like to illustrate, this is not necessarily for her honor, but for anyone listening to us. If we remember Sesame Street, they would show pictures and say which one here doesn’t belong? I will put 14 pictures…sugar, corn, pork, poultry, garlic, onion, carrot, fish, cruciferous vegetables, rice, then tobacco, beef, dairy, fruits. Which one doesn’t belong? May idea ho ba ang resource persons natin, your honor? Kasi sila naman siguro ang nag-propose nito. Which one doesn’t belong?

Kasi po, if I look at the definition of economic sabotage in agriculture, it states in your Section 3, Letter E, “Economic sabotage in agriculture refers to any act or activity that disrupts the economy by creating artificial shortage, promoting excessive importation, manipulating prices and supply, evading payment or underpayment of tariff and custom duties, threatening local production and food security, gaining excessive or exorbitant profits by exploiting situations, creating scarcity, and entering into agreements that defeat fair competition to the prejudice of the public.” Basically, this is the crux of this bill, defining what is economic sabotage in agriculture. Tama po ba?

Okay, and I will now relate that to the declaration of policy, which states that, “It is also the policy of the State to prevent smuggling of agricultural and fisheries products as this negatively affects agricultural production, supply of agricultural products, stability of prices and threatens the food security of its people.” Paano ho naka-threaten ng food security ng mga Pilipino ang tobacco? Kinakain ho ba ng mga Pilipino ang tobacco?

Well, that part of the response, I understand because this representation was the Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means when we, a couple of times over more than a decade, well Chairman in the last 3 years, but involved in the taxation of tobacco and related products. Naintindihan ko po na we tax tobacco products, number one, to make it less accessible to the youth, because nakakasama naman ito sa kanila, number two, added revenues for the government. Naiintindihan ko po ang portion na yun.

Yung portion na hindi ko maintindihan, kung bakit siya kailangan isama sa economic sabotage? Ganun ba siya ka-importante para sa atin, such that isasama natin sila sa mga produktong nakaka-affect sa ating food security? Ganun siya ka-importante?

Thank you, your honor for your patience. I am just reviewing this now so I am gathering all the information to make this interpellation short but relevant.

I take the position that I think it’s common sense to the average person, even for a child, that a tobacco product would not be part of that list of agricultural products that are truly essential to food security.

But your honor, later on, I will give an enumeration of other products that are also harmful but are not now part of this economic sabotage. In other words, you are singling out these tobacco products and including it in what is otherwise a very important list of products essential to food security. I beg to disagree that tobacco products should be included in this list.

What we’d like to point out as the Chairperson of the Senate Committee on SDGs, Innovation, and Futures Thinking, it is also important that we have a whole-of-government approach. When we choose to rely on a harmful product as the source of livelihood of our people, our people are exposed to the ill effects of… may I just finish my statement? Our people are exposed to these harmful products. It does not, with all due respect, justify, promoting this livelihood if in fact there are other products that can be promoted that are less harmful or if possible, not harmful to our Filipino kababayans, the Filipino farmers in particular. In fact, that is the reason why we have a law giving the share of the revenues from the tobacco products to certain regions precisely so that they would promote the promotion of alternative products.

RA 9211 refers to the program that shall promote cooperative programs to assist tobacco farmers in developing alternative farming systems, plant alternative crops, and other livelihood projects.

So I only mentioned this, your honor, because the sponsor mentions that we need to include tobacco products because this is a source of livelihood. I am mentioning the counter-argument that under the existing law that we passed 20 years ago, we are supposed to veer away from these harmful products. We should in fact be promoting the production of rice, of vegetables, of fruits, yung mga nasa listahan po ng ating sponsor, hindi po ang tobacco product. That is just my intervention on that point, your honor.

To be clear, your honor, and I should have said this at the start of this interpellation, I support this bill of her honor, it is a very good bill, I support and agree with the statement of her honor na galit na galit siya dito sa mga smuggler na ito. Full support po ako dyan. Ang kaisa-isa kong issue ay ang pagsama sa tobacco diyan, kasi katulad po ng inyong paliwanag ngayon lang, na dapat sugpuin ang pag-smuggle ng tobacco, agree din ako doon, kasi ako nga po ang Chairman nung isinulong natin ang Sin Tax Law na kasama ang bagong sin product na vapes. And I agree wholeheartedly, pero may batas na po tayong sumusugpo at nagbibigay ng penalty sa smuggling ng tobacco. Ang tanong ho is wow, ha? Ang tobacco, in-elevate na sa kahalagahan ng ating mga pagkain that is essential to food security. Wow. kasi yan ang gusto ng ating tobacco industry.

And I’ll tell you why this matters, your honor. During the interpellation of the Minority Floor Leader, napag-usapan niyo po ang role ng mga prosecurtors. Tama ho ba ang intindi ko para hindi ko na uulitin na there will be a special team of prosecutors right? That is correct?

I am confirming, di ba? Para hindi ko na uulitin. So the answer is yes. So there is a special team of prosecutors. In the news the other day, nakalagay doon na: the Philippines is number 2 in terms of child abuse cases, online child abuse. And I think everyone is aware, well our Deputy Minority Leader is here on the floor with us, she is also very much active in strengthening our ability to prosecute those involved in trafficking, to do whatever we can, because these are our children that are being victimized here, our women, the most vulnerable. So marami ho tayong mga crimes na kailangan full attention ng ating prosecutor. And agree po ako that our prosecutors will also be involved in addressing economic sabotage dito sa mga walang hiyang mga importer ng mga overpriced or smuggled, or kung anumang violation nila, sa mga commodities. Again, banggitin natin yung bigas, gulay, kung anumang importante. Pero kapag sinama si tobacco, ako naman, agree naman ako, niloloko din tayo ng mga yan. There was a time, your honor, 6-7 years ago, during the time of President Duterte, na nawala na ang Mighty Cigarette kasi number one din yan sa ganun. So full support po ako dyan. Full support ako. Pero when you elevate it to the importance of an essential food commodity, medyo I think that’s pushing it, because it is not fair to the Filipino people who are suffering na yung tobacco ilagay sa same level ng essential commodities katulad ng kinakain nila araw-araw. Yun lang naman ang posisyon ko, your honor. I’ll just park it there because we may disagree in principle, but I cannot support that ang limited resources natin, including the prosecutors, will be giving the same amount of attention for the smugglers of essential goods like rice, same attention ang ibibigay nun sa smuggler ng tobacco. Yun lang po ang comment ko dyan.

Your honor, sa Section 12 naman, there is a list, this refers to the creation/establishment of an Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Council. So it mentions the members, mga department natin, including Agri, DTI… and then in Letter I, it mentions one representative each of the following agricultural centers whose members shall be nationwide. May isa sa sugar, then rice and corn, livestock and poultry, vegetables and fruits, fisheries and other aquatic products, and tobacco. May I know who for example would be the representative from the sugar industry or the rice industry, and corn? Who would make up this? Is this the farmers’ cooperatives? Sino ho ba ang magme-member dyan?

So sa tobacco, ganun din? It’s the tobacco farmers? And then, I will relate this to the question of the Minority Floor Leader when he pointed out in the early part of the bill, where you have an enumeration now of what are agricultural and fisheries products? That’s Section 3.A. it refers to cruciferous vegetables. And then itong Section 12 ata if I am not mistaken… vegetables and fruits… Pero I don’t think that answered his question na ano ba talaga ang vegetables na sakop nito? Cruciferous lang or all kinds of vegetables?

No, but in terms of defining the subject of the crime, we need to be very specific. If you include the word cruciferous to describe vegetables here, then we cannot include non-cruciferous vegetables. Is that clear? So in other words, tomato, hindi naman cruciferous yun, di ba?

And you are sure? Kasi this law is not meant to be amended every year. Kasi hindi natin pwede itong balikan. Bakit hindi niyo na lang isama? Kasi ako, I am really shocked, si tobacco excited kayo isama pero ibang gulay, hindi niyo isasama? Hindi ko talaga maintindihan.

How about potato? Hindi kasi kung garlic, onion, and carrots lang, huwag niyo na isama si cruciferous, dahil paulit-ulit tayo sa garlic, onion, and carrots. If that’s all you want to include.

So, dito sa list niyo of representatives, then it should be a representative from the specific cruciferous vegetables that are affected? Hindi ka pwede mag-representative ng kamatis dahil hindi yan kasama, tama ba?

Ganito na lang, yun nga po ang point ko. Ganito na lang. Can we just spread in the records that when we say that there will be one representative from each of the following sectors, the representative for vegetable and fruits will definitely have to fall within the farmers’ cooperatives that are selling, growing those particular… the cruciferous vegetables that are being referred to earlier, because otherwise, why would you have a representative that doesn’t fall under them?

And then, you stated there, vegetables and fruits, for something so important, pinagsama pa yun. So mag-aaway pa si vegetable and fruit representative kung sino sa kanila ang pwedeng makasama diyan, eh isa lang, buti pa si tobacco, solong solo niya ang space niya. Totoo naman po kaya kayo natatawa eh.

Di ba, mag-aaway pa sila? Wala pa silang voice.

Si rice tsaka si corn, naghahati din. Pero si tobacco is all alone with one voice equivalent to everybody else. Di ba? I mean, your honor, yun lang talaga… Tanggalin na nga kasi it doesn’t belong nga eh.

And, I agree 100 percent with her honor. I am against smuggling of any kind, including tobacco. But it is already covered by existing laws. Talagang bilib na bilib lang ako sa lobby ng tobacco na kasama siya dito dahil nasama siya. Alam ko yun kasi sinabi pa sa akin talaga ng tobacco industry na, ito ang plano nila eh.

Alam niyo po, ang pinaninindigan kong kalusugan ng mga kababayan natin, regardless naman po kung anong region, pinaglalaban ko lang po ang kalusugan ng mga kababayan natin, from whatever region, north or south. So that’s why it’s my sworn duty to bring this up during our deliberations…

On Page 9, Line 17, the paragraph reads, “Provided further that any person found guilty under this Act shall also suffer the penalty of perpetual, absolute disqualification to engage in any business involving importation, transportation, storage, and warehousing and domestic trade of agricultural and fisheries products.”

To be honest, your honor, I like this kasi ang gumagawa ng karumal-dumal na smuggling na yan, talagang gusto ko na silang mawala sa mundong ito. However, and I hope the Minority Floor Leader is following, I don’t know if that’s unconstitutional. If you can prevent somebody from engaging in a trade. Page 9 Line 17, if you are found guilty, the penalty is “perpetual, absolute disqualification to engage in any business involving importation, transportation, storage, and warehousing and domestic trade of agricultural and fisheries products.”

I’ve never heard of this kind of penalty. I love it, to be honest, I am conflicted kasi nga ayoko na talaga makita ang mga mukha nila, mga pangalan nila, mga anak-anakan nila to do these things. But I am not aware if we can do these things. You can prevent them… from doing business with government and getting a permit. Pero to engage in business, I am not sure, it’s a very interesting question, which I challenge all the lawyers in the halls of Congress now to research, kasi hindi ko pa narinig na na-prevent mo yung tao to engage in business.

So my question remains. Baka unconstitutional po yun. Again, it’s just a question. I put it out there. I will also study it. Pero I hope we can all study it kasi sabi ko nga, kung ako gusto ko rin gawin yun. Pero we need to be constitutional.

And I think this is my last point, your honor. In the same section, the next paragraph states, “Provided, furthermore, that the agricultural and fisheries products subject of the prohibited acts and the properties used in the commission of the crime of agricultural economic sabotage such as, but not limited to, vehicles, vessels, aircrafts, storage area, warehouses, boxes, cases, trunks, and other containers of whatever character, used as receptacles of agricultural and fisheries products shall be confiscated in favor of the government.” Eh paano ho kung nag-rent lang ng warehouse at wala naman alam si warehouse na nagva-violate ho ng crime yun? Paano din ho kung nag-rent lang ng vehicle? How can you categorically say that it will be confiscated?

And that is a very fair warning, but if we put it in a law, that’s a deprivation of property, which is enshrined in the Constitution. We cannot deprive anyone of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.

May I request the lawyers to review this? Kasi medyo maraming provisions na possibly unconstitutional. Hindi ko na ho uulitin yung mga pinoint out ni Minority Floor Leader. I love this law, as I said, I just don’t like tobacco being elevated to the level of basic necessities. But otherwise, I am very supportive, gusto kong itapon sa Pacific Ocean, kawawa ang mga isda na makasama itong mga smuggler na ito. I support kaya ayaw ko lang maging unconstitutional, your honor.

And your honor, just to point out, when I mentioned that baka unconstitutional yung provision that provides for absolute disqualification to engage in any business, the words used were “perpetual, absolute disqualification to engage in any business involving importation, transportation, storage, and warehousing and domestic trade of agricultural and fisheries products.” Her honor responded that this is already found in the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act. But to be clear, what is provided in the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act is this provision, “any person, natural or juridical, found guilty under this Act shall also suffer the penalty of perpetual, absolute disqualification to engage in any business involving importation.” Unang una, napaka-limited ng sa Act na yun, importation. Number two, you need government clearances to import. That’s why ang sinabi ko is, you can prevent them from dealing with government or engaging in something that involves a government permit. And that’s why the importation I feel should be okay. The provision as it stands in the law.

But when you define the crime and widen its scope, the penalty should not be violative of the Constitution and the Constitution still states that we cannot deprive anyone of property without due process of law. So may I request the agencies that are pushing for this bill to review this carefully from a constitutional standpoint? Kung pwede bang mag-deprive tayo ng tao na may negosyo. I support. I will be the first to support. Kasi ayoko na talaga sila magnegosyo ng ganito. Ayoko talaga. Pero ayoko din naman masayang ang energy natin na pagkatapos natin hulihin yang mga yan, matapon lang ang kaso, sasabihin unconstitutional.

And maybe we can also ask DOJ to study, kasi nga the prosecutors are under DOJ. So, kasama po sila doon. And I recall now, may isa pa pala akong tanong dito, this is under the provision on the powers of the council. Under the powers of the council, this is Section 13… “The Council shall have the following powers: to freeze the funds, properties, bank deposits, placement trust accounts, assets and records belonging to a person suspected of the crime punishable under this Act.” I am not aware… Do we criminalize… Paano kung sabihin ko na I am suspecting na meron ka sa bulsa mo, Mr Minority Floor Leader na binili mo sa tabi-tabi na walang permit na sibuyas?

On the same provision, Section 13, Letter M, it also gives the council the power to “hold in custody and dispose of confiscated, seized, and/or surrendered agricultural and fisheries products subject of the crime of economic sabotage.” That’s a very vague word, yung subject of the crime. Na-convict na ba? Na-file-an ba ng kasi?

But the choice of words, baka naman the team can work with… let’s improve it, your honor. I know this is a priority bill, pero personally, ako hindi ko kaya itong i-review lahat ng pati mga small words like this because this violates basic rights even though gusto ko nga itapon ang mga yan doon saan mang 7th level of hell. Pero we still have to be constitutional in our approach. So ipa-review niyo naman po sa mga lawyers nang maayos.

But when you hold it in custody, you are also depriving somebody of their rights. So I need to understand that carefully.

Yes, I have no question with that. I am simply saying that you write it out properly so that the process there would be clear because at a glance…

Hindi po ma’am, sana naman ang team na nandyan, will also write it properly kasi kami naman ay nagmamalasakit lang na huwag mabato itong bill natin with so many unconstitutional provisions. We know her honor is very passionate about it. I share the passion, except for the tobacco part, pero let naman the team do the work naman.

It still says the word “subject of the crime.” I don’t know what that means. Sorry for my ignorance. I don’t know what it means, subject of the crime. Na-file-an na ba ng kaso yan? I don’t know what it means.

Anyway, your honor, I am very happy to collaborate with her honor’s team, but I don’t have the manpower to make these amendments, I think the ones who drafted it… Opo. So yun lang naman po, again, I repeat, I am in full support, except for the elevation of the status of tobacco to a basic necessity, which is not. Thank you very much, your honor, for your time. And thank you, Mr President. #

In her interpellation of the proposed ‘Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Act,’ Senator Pia S. Cayetano opposed the inclusion of tobacco in the list of agricultural products that are essential to food security, saying that the measure is part of the tobacco industry’s lobby to get a foothold in government policymaking.
Among several issues, Senator Pia S. Cayetano asks why representatives from vital agricultural sectors like vegetables and fruits, and those from the rice and corn sectors must jostle for single representation while the tobacco sector would have its own seat at the bill’s proposed Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Council.
“May I request the lawyers to review this? Kasi medyo maraming provisions na possibly unconstitutional. Hindi ko na ho uulitin yung mga pinoint out ni Minority Floor Leader. I love this law, as I said, I just don’t like tobacco being elevated to the level of basic necessities. But otherwise, I am very supportive, gusto kong itapon sa Pacific Ocean, kawawa ang mga isda na makasama itong mga smuggler na ito. I support kaya ayaw ko lang maging unconstitutional, your honor.”





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