MEMBERS of the House Committee on Public Order and Safety admonished the Bureau of Customs (BoC) for the alleged unabated smuggling of firecrackers and pyrotechnic products, especially during the holiday season.
The lawmakers said the proliferation of smuggled firecrackers and pyrotechnic products not only affects the local manufacturing industry but also poses health and safety problems because the imported items are not being subjected to safety and quality standards inspections.
In the recent hearing of the committee chaired by Antipolo City Rep. Romeo Acop, Negros Oriental Rep. Arnolfo “Arnie” A. Teves Jr., the solons asked if it is the Philippine National Police or the BoC which should be held accountable so the people would know who they will contact whenever they see imported firecrackers being sold.
Teves said the BoC should be held accountable because imported firecrackers are considered illegal, hence, those being sold are smuggled.
“If nobody will be held accountable, these illegal products would continue to proliferate,” said Teves.
Teves said he only learned during the course of the committee hearing that imported firecrackers are illegal.
“Ngayon ko lang nalaman na ang imported firecrackers ay illegal, because every year I see them being openly sold,” said Teves.
Acop said the first line of defense, in so far as smuggled items are concerned, is the BoC.
Acop, a lawyer and a former director of the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) added that any law enforcement agency, and pursuant to special laws wherein deputation is needed, the PNP and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) can operate against the smuggled items.
“That is the general rule as far as the law enforcement agencies are concerned,” said Acop.
Acop then moved to include the BoC in the committee’s technical working group (TWG) that will consolidate all five proposals to regulate the manufacture, sale, distribution, and use of firecrackers.
Deputy Speaker Cebu Rep. Gwendolyn “Gwen” Garcia said based on the Joint Memorandum Circular, which enjoins the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), PNP, Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), Department of Health (DoH), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Finance (DoF), BoC, and local government units (LGUs), it is the DTI that is tasked to confiscate the illegal items and charge the importer or trader.
Teves said the PNP should help in the confiscation of the illegal items because the DTI may not have enough personnel to undertake such responsibility.
“Ang tanong, kakayanin ba ng DTI, does it have enough personnel to carry this out? Tuwing magpaPasko, may binebenta sa daan, I forgot the brand, I think they are made in China. Nandoon lang sa daan. My question is, DTI lang ba? ‘Di ba puwedeng hulihin ng pulis? Kung aantayin natin ang DTI, baka kulang ang tao nila. It has been going on for years. I hope to see the law fully implemented na talagang wala kang makikita na imported fireworks,” said Teves.
Iloilo Rep. Arthur R. Defensor Jr. stressed that imported firecrackers can be confiscated on the spot because these are considered illegal.
Defensor pointed out thgat under the existing law, the importation of firecrackers is prohibited, and yet the people see the proliferation of these items.
“What must be done is to improve the quality of locally-manufactured firecrackers and export them instead of buying smuggled ones,” said Defensor.
Jovenson Ong, president of the Philippine Fireworks Association (PFA), said based on a DoH report, 57 percent of firecracker-related injuries are due to smuggled firecrackers which are of poor quality and unsafe.
Ong urged the government to stop the smuggling of firecrackers to save the people from harm.
Ong added that it is difficult to trace smugglers of firecrackers because when they order those items abroad, they instruct the foreign producers to mark the articles with “Made in the Philippines.”
Ong said the government should protect the local manufacturers from smugglers who do not pay taxes.
Police Chief Supt. Hawthorne Binag, head of the Firearms and Explosives Office (FEO), said for the past two years, the confiscation of smuggled firecrackers and pyrotechnic has gone up thrice or three-fourths in terms of the cost or amount of the items.
These include illegal possession, use, and sale of firecrackers and pyrotechnics. From P500,000 plus in 2014, the amount hit P1.3 million in 2015.
“Medyo maliit po in terms of the amount, but the effort improved three-fourths,” said Binag.
Binag stressed that the PNP does not allow just any policeman to confiscate smuggled firecrackers because there were cases of abuse in the past.
“The instructions to PNP units is to first train then deputize our arresting men. Nu’ng mga nakaraan, kahit sinong pulis nanghuhuli. Nagkaroon ng problema, nagkaroon ng abuso, kaya naging patakaran naming tini-training muna namin ang mga pulis,” he said.
Binag said the PNP is finding it difficult to seize alleged imported products because they are marked “Made in the Philippines.” “So it is really important for the DTI and the BOC to work closely together in order to seize the smuggled firecrackers,” said Binag.