Calling the move of President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to temporarily head the Department of Agriculture (DA) as an “excellent decision,” Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday revealed that the President-elect was greatly disturbed by the extent of corruption in the DA, as well as the Bureau of Customs (BOC).
Senate President Sotto III said he was “pleasantly surprised” on learning of President Marcos’s move to handle the DA “for now,” and would like to believe that the thorough investigation he and Senator Panfilo Lacson pursued on vegetable smuggling before the 18th Senate adjourned had given the incoming president substantial leads on how to clean up corruption in the agency.
Asked what advantages does he sees in having the incoming president handle the agriculture portfolio, Sotto said: “I think it is an excellent decision,” recalling that “it is one of the issues that we talked about when we met” after the former senator was proclaimed the 17th president of the republic.
Sotto lamented, however, that “unfortunately, with due respect, the Department of Agriculture has been embroiled in so much corruption especially in the issue of smuggling, technical smuggling… Kaya napakaganda na napagdesiyunan na ang Pangulo muna ang secretary of agriculture [That’s why the President’s decision to be the secretary of agriculture initially is a good one].”
Recalling that “the Agriculture Department was not like that before,” Sotto III deplored that now, “there is a bad influence between the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Agriculture.”
During the Committee of the Whole hearings that he and Lacson had led weeks before the June 1 adjournment of Congress, Sotto revealed having gotten a confidential report on the names of personalities in and out of government who were involved in the smuggling of farm products. This has caused billions in losses to the government, by way of Customs revenue, and to local farmers who cannot compete with the lower-priced smuggled items.
Sotto said he expects Marcos can “clean smuggling and corruption at the BOC and the DA.”
Replying to reporters’ questions, Sotto said he expects Marcos Jr to review what is seen in many quarters as the “over importation” of agriculture products. “Yes. Lock, stock, and barrel. I’m expecting the incoming president to scrutinize everything. He knows what’s going on. As a matter of fact, I am not sure if I am at liberty to say so, but I know for a fact that he already has a list of those involved in the smuggling.”
Asked if he shared their findings in the Senate’s Committee of the Whole’s findings, Sotto confirmed that they discussed the matter with President-elect Marcos. “Napag-usapan namin [We discussed it].”
Asked if Marcos Jr gave a commitment to share the list of those involved in the agricultural smuggling racket, the Senate leader recalled, partly in Filipino: “Well, perhaps in so many words, he did not need to commit to me anything like that, but I sensed from our talk that he was bothered by the corruption being talked about in the Department of Agricullture and Customs.”