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Tobacco farmers get moral boost from PBBM

August 8, 2023 Mario Fetalino Jr. 311 views

Mario FetalinoTOBACCO farmers recently got a moral boost from President Marcos Ferdinance Marcos Jr. who called for their protection.

Marcos Jr. underscored the importance of protecting the livelihood of tobacco farmers.

“These past years, we had seen so much change in our health policies that affected the tobacco industry. As such, we must seek ways to protect the livelihood of thousands of our tobacco farmers,” Marcos said. The President said the tobacco industry has been a catalyst for economic growth in the country, especially in Northern Luzon and Mindanao.

“For many of our people, it is an indispensable bedrock that generates income, livelihood, opportunities, and employment, particularly in areas where its cultivation spans generations and holds pivotal significance in the way of its communities,” said Marcos.

“It is a significant source of tax revenues that are used to fund government programs,” he added.

Marcos directed the Department of Agriculture and the National Tobacco Administration (NTA) to explore other crops that can be grown alongside tobacco.

To protect local tobacco farmers, the NTA said it is closely coordinating with other government agencies to help combat the illicit tobacco trade.

“We are working with the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue). We are supporting their efforts [to combat] illicit trade,” said NTA administrator Belinda Sanchez on the sidelines of the summit.

NTA regulatory department manager Robert Ambros, meanwhile, disclosed the losses due to illicit tobacco trade amounted to about PHP30 billion from 2020 to 2022.

“That record was taken from previous years. We’ve heard that information during last year’s congressional hearings on tobacco trading and smugglings,” he said.

Meanwhile, A party-list lawmaker recently said at least PHP26 billion in revenue is lost each year by the government to the illicit trade of tobacco products, which deprives the country of much-needed funds to support various government programs.

PBA Party-list Rep. Margarita Ignacia Nograles said the government is losing billions in revenues because of the uncollected excise taxes from these smuggled tobacco products.

“The government revenues are lost from smuggled, unregistered, and unregulated cigarettes which are being sold via container vans shipments. This resulted in an estimated PHP26 billion in financial losses annually. If this continues, it will affect our local tobacco industry and roughly 2.2 million kababayans will be affected,” Nograles said.

Nograles, together with Presidential son and Ilocos Norte Rep. Ferdinand “Sandro” Marcos, pushed for the passage of bill imposing tougher penalties against tobacco smuggling by amending some provisions of Republic Act 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016.

The bill seeks to include raw and finished tobacco as agricultural commodities whose illegal importation constitutes economic sabotage, which is punishable with life imprisonment and a fine of twice the fair value of the smuggled agricultural product and the aggregate amount of the taxes, duties and other charges avoided.

The panel, chaired by Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga, approved the measure.

In sponsoring the bill, Nograles said tobacco farming remains a primary source of livelihood for so many Filipino farmers despite the increase in excise taxes for the sale of tobacco products.

“The tobacco industry is a common source of income for many Filipinos. This contributes to around 516,000 labor force in 2019 and around 2.2 million Filipinos generated earnings from the industry. The significant impact was it accounts for 6 percent of tax revenue in 2020, and 58 percent of so-called sin tax receipts are being used to finance the national health budget – including the universal health care resulting in 8 million more low-income families receiving health care under this program,” Nograles said.

Despite tobacco production remaining very high, she said local tobacco farmers and legitimate tobacco product manufacturers are not only suffering economically because of the high excise tax imposed by the government but also because of the massive amount of tobacco products that are smuggled into the country by unscrupulous importers and traders.

Nograles and Marcos said in some areas in the Philippines, namely Zamboanga del Sur and Misamis Occidental, it is estimated that six out of 10 cigarettes sold in the market come from illegal sources.

“Almost daily, there are new reports of seized illegal cigarettes by the Bureau of Customs in Mindanao and this is just the tip of the iceberg. Even in the tobacco-producing region of Ilocos, nearly 10 percent of the cigarettes sold are illicit,” they said.

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