SAYING the used-clothing industry is a multibillion-peso industry that has benefited both the economy and ordinary people, the House Committee on Ways and Means chairman started this week the process for repealing a decades-old law prohibiting imports of such items. “Ukay-ukay has been legal in all but the law itself,” according to Albay Rep. Joey Sarte Salceda.
At about the same time, in a separate development, senators also began tackling the issue, with Sen. Raffy Tulfo noting how the poor have relied on it even as he chided regulators who turn a blind eye to smugglers. The small vendors and ordinary people should not be punished while the law prohibiting ukay-ukay stands; it’s the smugglers who should be prosecuted, added Tulfo, whose reputation as “idol” or action man to the masses with his long-running radio and TV program catapulted him to No. 2 in the last senatorial race.
Salceda: “Law enforcement does
not raid ukay-ukay stores. Ukay has
always been available as an option. For humanitarian reasons, we import ukayukay. Even apprehended ukay imports are eventually donated to disaster victims. And no one thinks it’s a bad idea to do these things. Ukay-ukay has been legal in all but the law itself.”
Tulfo pointed out how certain big businessmen make a killing smuggling used clothes which are then sold in the market. Small sellers with their tiny rented stalls are obliged to pay taxes while importers are not paying their duties to the Bureau of Customs.
Senate Ways and Means Committee chairperson Sherwin Gatchalian formally sought the Bureau of Customs’ comments on what should be revisited with Republic Act 4653 during a hearing that he led.
At the House, Salceda said he will move to repeal Republic Act 4653, or the law which prohibits the importation of used clothing or ukay-ukay, estimated to be an P18-billion industry.
“We will take it up and move to repeal the bill, subject to standards prescribed by the Department of Health,” Salceda said, who added that he will file a bill on the matter.
“It’s time for the law to recognize what is real and legal to the ordinary Filipino anyway,” Salceda added.
The economist-lawmaker even noted that the country has tariff lines for ukay-ukay, at “15-20 percent for used clothing from countries we do not have trade agreements with, and 0 percent for Asean countries.”
Major sources, he added, “will include the United States and Europe, which we do not have free-trade agreements with, and Japan, with which we do.”
Salceda observed that, “Law enforcement does not raid ukay-ukay stores. Ukay has always been available as an option. For humanitarian reasons, we import ukay-ukay. Even apprehended ukay imports are eventually donated to disaster victims. And no one thinks it’s a bad idea to do these things. Ukay-ukay has been legal in all but the law itself,” he added.
Global trend, practice
The House leader also pointed to, a locator in Clark that “even imports used clothing that they sort. They reexport the usable clothes and use the rest as rags. There is a $28-billion market for used clothing. In fact, supermarkets there already sell used branded clothing. These fashion stores already accept used clothing.”
Salceda cited supermarkets such as Walmart that already sell “excellent used clothing” of top brands.
Salceda also cited fast fashion brands that solicit used clothing from their customers, either for recycling as rags or reuse.
Migrant workers and Filipino travelers interviewed by the BusinessMirror have referred to ukay-ukay as a “life saver” of sorts, allowing them to buy urgently needed attire at affordable prices, for travel where their usual clothing here might not be suited, especially for OFWs traveling to countries during winter.
Ana Leah Domingo (not her real name) in recent years had patronized a couple of ukay-ukay stores near her house in Manila.
“One time, my husband urgently needed a black coat for a wedding, and we found one with a U2 brand, for which he shelled out P175. He’s still using it for special occasions,” she said.
Her cousin Gigi Casabuena recalled how the sales girls at the newly opened ukay-ukay at the ground floor of their apartment building in Makati would even “curate” for her and her three sisters items that they thought would fit their customers.
“One time, I had to travel to Japan during winter, and I told them I was pressed for time and money. The next day, they called me and laid out a set of nice clothes that I could use for different occasions—casual and formal—in winter. So I traveled with nice, quality clothes at rock-bottom price.”
Migrant workers also share experiences about patronizing used-clothing stores in their host countries. Recently, one veteran journalist recalled buying a nice trench coat—for $10—at one such store in Boston.
A former diplomat in Paris used to bring Pinoy visitors to a used-clothing hub in the city, where stylish jackets and scarves could be had for just a fraction of the brand-new price.
Used-clothing business could also shore up enterprises for the poor, as the Caritas Manila’s long-running “Segunda Mano” has shown. The charity periodically gets donations of old items from large retailers that want to dispose of old, idle inventory in their malls, and sells these in outlets, alongside some used clothing donated by the faithful.
In making his pitch for repealing the law banning ukay-ukay, Salceda had pointed out, “There is a niche but increasingly larger retro clothing industry as well. And there seems to be a potential for us to be a sorting and reexport center for used but good clothing.”
Such a repeal, in his view, will “finally formalize a large but in-the-shadows sector that so many of the rural and urban poor deem to be essential businesses.”
Salceda is not blind to the question of health and hygiene, especially given fears of passing on infections via clothing during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Putting health standards in place, according to Salceda, can be done as part of the legislative correction, and guarantees a way can be found to reduce the health risks of such imports.
“I would rather,” stressed Salceda, “that we place DOH standards and allow ukay-ukay businesses to finally register, instead of having such a large underground sector that we just choose to ignore, because it’s big enough to provide jobs, but illegal.”
Sen. Pia Cayetano supported a review of the law for the livelihood that ukay-ukay production provides while giving ordinary folks a place to buy suitable attire. However, Cayetano, a staunch health advocate, also cited the environmental concerns arising from the flooding in Africa of second-hand clothes from Western countries.
“I support the call for revisiting, but we really need to have a full-blown hearing on this,” Cayetano said.
Enacted in 1966, RA 4653 prohibits the “commercial importation of textile articles commonly known as used clothing and rags.” It requires the burning of these items in the presence of representatives from the General Auditing Office, the Department of Finance, and the Office of the President.
Despite the ban, ukay-ukay has grown the past decades, noted Tulfo, adding it made sense indeed to revisit the law, if only to maximize revenue benefits for the government while continuing to provide people jobs and clothing choices.
“Kung hindi niyo na po talaga kayang pigilan, kausapin niyo po siguro ’yung mga mambabatas para baguhin ’yung batas natin, ’yung policy to make the ukay-ukay legal, na pwede na pong pumasok sa bansa at magbayad po ng tama na buwis [If you cannot stop the trade, I suggest you ask Congress to amend the law, so they can make ukay-ukay legal, allow its entry here and make the importers pay the right taxes],” Tulfo told BOC deputy commissioner Edward James Dy Buco.
With this, the government can raise more revenue instead of cracking down on online sellers, added Tulfo.
However, Gabriela Women’s Party-list Rep. Arlene Brosas said the proposal of Tulfo to slap taxes on used clothes or ukay-ukay—once legalized—is anti-poor. She noted that many Filipinos rely on such stores for cheap clothing.
At the same time, Brosas said repealing Republic Act 4653, which bans the commercial importation of ukay-ukay, may further open up the Philippines to “unlimited” imports and deny the local garments industry a chance to recover.
Image credits: Roy Domingo