THE Philippine Tobacco Growers Association (PTGA) and the National Federation of Tobacco Farmers Association and Cooperatives (NAFTAC), with a combined membership of nearly 50,000, urged the Senate to immediately pass Senate Bill 2432 or the “Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Act” sponsored by Senator Cynthia A. Villar to protect the agricultural sector, which is suffering from the unabated smuggling of agricultural products, including tobacco.
PTGA president Saturnino Distor said all agricultural industries should be equally protected as rampant smuggling continues to be a grave threat to the livelihood of local farmers and millions of dependents who rely on these industries for their income and sustenance. He added that the tobacco industry is vital to food security since they also farm rice, corn, and other primary crops.
“Milyong-milyong Pilipino ang nakadepende sa industriya ng tabako para sa dagdag kita at benepisyo. Ito po ay nagtatawid sa aming pamilya habang hinihintay ang panahon ng pagtanimng mais at palay. Ang tuluyan pagpuslit at pagbenta ng iligal ng sigarilyo ay nakakasira sa kinabubuhay naming magsasaka,” Distor said.
NAFTAC Chairman Bernard Vicente added said that illegal cigarettes are now available and sold in all major provinces, affecting demand for local tobacco leaf, further impacting tobacco farmers. Citing a recent study conducted by the University of Asia and the Pacific, he said that 17% or nearlyone out of five cigarettes sold in the country come from illegalsources.
“Unti-unti kaming pinapatay ng salot na dulot ng iligal na sigarilyo. Kami po ay nakikiisa sa iba pang sangay ng sektor ng agrikultura sa panawagang ipasa na ng Senado ang bill. Kami po sa industriya ng tabako ay makikinabang sapagkat mababawasan na ang pagpupuslit at pagbenta ng iligal na tabako,” Vicente said.
According to Vicente, over 3 million Filipinos are dependent on the local tobacco sector.
In her privilege speech to sponsor the Bill, Senator Villar cited information from the Samahang Industiya ng Agrikultura(SINAG), indicating that the Philippine government loses at least P200 billion in revenue annually due to smuggling. She also highlighted that the bill includes measures against tobacco smuggling, with an estimated revenue loss of around P25 billion from excise taxes alone.
Under Sen. Villar’s proposed law, the acts of smuggling, hoarding, profiteering and cartel of agricultural products will be considered an act of economic sabotage which is a non-bailable offense. The jail term for smugglers will also be increased to 30-40 years and fines will be twice the fair value and aggregate amount of the taxes, duties, and other unpaid charges of smuggled items.
PTGA and NAFTAC expressed dismay over the opposition of some groups against the bill.
“Hindi naman sila ang naapektuhan. Sila ba ang kumakayod sa pagtatanim, naglilinya ng ani o ang nagugutom? Bakit ho sila kumakampi sa mga smuggler at hindi pumapanig sa magsasakang Pilipino?,” Vicente asked.
“Lahat ng Pilipino ay nakikinabang sa produksyon ng tabako. Yan ang nagbabayad ng Philhealth natin at ginagamit ng Department of Health sa pagpapatayo ng mga ospital at mga health center. Nakakatanggap rin kaming magsasaka ng benepisyo tulad ng pataba at makina mula sa buwis ng sigarilyo,” Distor said.
Tobacco excise taxes, as mandated by Republic Act No. 11346, are designated for Universal Health Care (40%), DOH-Health Facilities Enhancement Program (10%), and the remainder goes to tobacco-producing provinces, cities, and municipalities and the national budget.
In 2022, tobacco excise taxes fell to P160 billion, lower than the previous year’s P176 billion. This is the first time that tobacco taxes have dropped in recent years, mainly due to illegal cigarettes, impacting government revenues.|