Tobacco farmers press for signing of ‘economic sabotage’ bill before SONA

TOBACCO growers expressed support for the Anti-Agricultural Economic Sabotage Act, citing the need to address unfair competition from smuggled tobacco products, and asked the President to sign the measure before he addresses Congress in July.

“We believe the bill will help prevent the smuggling of agricultural products and will deter these criminals,” Bernard R. Vicente, chairman of the National Federation of Tobacco Farmers Association and Cooperatives (NAFTAC), said in a statement.

The House of Representatives passed House Bill No. 9284, also known as the “Anti Agri-Fishery Commodities and Tobacco Economic Sabotage Act” on Sept. 27, 2023. The Senate also approved a similar measure on Dec. 11.

Philippine Tobacco Growers Association (PTGA) President Saturnino Distor said that tobacco farming is vital to food security since their members also farm rice, corn, and other primary crops.

“The bill is urgently needed since the agricultural sector is reeling from rampant smuggling that threatens farmers and millions of their dependents,” he added.

According to the National Tobacco Administration, there are currently 2.2 million people financially dependent on tobacco including more than 430,000 farmers, farm workers and their family members.

“We hope that Congress can finally have a Bicameral Conference Committee so it can be signed by President Marcos before his (State of the Nation Address). This is one of the priorities of his administration and a big help to us farmers,” Mr. Distor said.

The President’s home region of Ilocos is a major producer of tobacco.

The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura estimates that the government loses at least P200 billion in revenue annually due to smuggling. 

Smuggled cigarettes are estimated to deny the government at least P30 billion annually in excise taxes.

The Bureau of Internal Revenue reported a 16% decline to P135 billion in excise tax collections in 2023. This was attributed to an increase in the smuggling and distribution of illegal cigarettes and vape products.

The PTGA and NAFTAC have called for more comprehensive government monitoring of illegal vape products, citing the threat to tobacco farmers’ livelihoods. — Adrian H. Halili