Marcos certifies as urgent bill seeking heftier penalties vs agri economic sabotage

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 21) — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has certified as urgent a measure that aims to give the government more teeth against individuals profiting from agricultural economic sabotage.

According to a Palace statement, the president certified as urgent the approval of Senate Bill No. 2432 on Wednesday, a letter of which was sent to Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri.

READ: Lawmakers seek passage of tougher law vs. agricultural economic sabotage

Aside from smuggling, the bill seeks to expand crimes to be considered as economic sabotage, which would include hoarding, profiteering, and cartels of agricultural and fishery products.

In an attempt to end these practices, Malacañang said the measure plans to impose “severe sanctions,” such as life imprisonment and a fine thrice the value of the agricultural and fishery products.

Authorities would also have the right to seize the subject products, as well as the properties used in launching the crime, like vehicles, vessels, aircraft, and warehouses, among others.

Government officers or officials determined to have connived in the crime would also “suffer the additional penalties of perpetual disqualification from holding public office, exercising the right to vote, from participating in any public election, and forfeiture of employment monetary and financial benefits,” the bill stated.

Senators earlier expressed hope to pass the law before Christmas.

Lawmaker questions proposed penalty

During Wednesday's Senate hearing on the bill, Senate Minority Leader Koko Pimentel said he supports stricter measures to eliminate smuggling and other economic crimes.

However, Pimentel noted that they still need to be "conscious" about the bill of rights of people suspected of having committed the crimes.

"I've noticed that our bill only prescribes one penalty as far as the deprivation of liberty is concerned," he said, which Senator Cynthia Villar referred to as “life imprisonment.”

"Kasi sa Revised Penal Code, may concept tayo na principal, accomplice, accessory. Si principal po talaga 'yung gumawa nung action na kriminal, 'yung iba tumulong. Ito po ba, 'yung ganung klaseng levels of criminal liability ay buburahin basta masabing nakatulong ka sa taong nag-smuggle? Life imprisonment din ang parusa sa kanya?" Pimentel asked.

[Translation: Because in the Revised Penal Code, we have the concept of principal, accomplice, accessory. The principal is really the one who committed the criminal action, the others just helped. Will this kind of level of criminal liability be removed if the person helped in smuggling? Is life imprisonment also the punishment for him?]

Villar defended the proposed measure, saying this was necessary as the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Law passed in 2016 failed to even file one case after seven years of enactment.

"We're so disappointed that we have decided to pass a more strict law so that there will be at least one or two or three persons who will be punished under this law," she said.

Senator Francis Escudero also raised concerns on recent news about the Bureau of Customs conducting raids on possible smuggled rice supply, and yet no names of people behind these have emerged.