Alcala, Calayag face plunder over Vietnam rice importation

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Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Orlan Calayag are facing graft and plunder charges before the Office of the Ombudsman over the P457-million participation in the rice importation of the country with Vietnam.

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In a 10-page criminal complaint, lawyer Argee Guevarra assailed the P4.1-billion government-to-government (G2G) transaction between the Philippines and Vietnam, wherein both accused were said to have shored huge amounts of money in kickbacks.

Guevarra said that in April 2013, NFA officials transacted with Truong Thanh Phong, general director of Vietnam Southern Food Corporation (Vina Food II), for the importation of 205,700 metric tons of rice.

The lawyer added that Calayag, deputy administrator Dennis Guerrero, and a certain fixer “Buddy R” were billeted at the Shangri-La Hotel in Makati City on April 1, 2013 at around two in the afternoon.

Guerrero and Buddy R then flew to Vietnam weeks after without official clearances to allegedly meet Phong to “ostensibly conclude the deal.”

Then both of them headed for Singapore and billeted at Hotel Hyatt Singapore, where Phong and Vina Food II officials were also checked-in.

It is at this point where the complainant alleged that an exchange of kickbacks has occurred, Guevarra said.

“Why this unofficial meeting? These and the circumstances described hereunder lead to the conclusion that an exchange of kickbacks occurred in Singapore,” Gueverra alleged.

The complainant said that Guerrero and Buddy R flew again on May 8 to Vietnam. Three days later, NFA deputy administrator Ludovico Jarina joined them to secure quantitative restrictions on rice importation and to increase the minimum access volume to allow more imports.

Gueverra said for the April transaction alone, public funds lost to corruption amounted to $10.43 million or P457 million, a windfall for a single transaction.

Guevarra said that between May 13 and June 20, the accused purchased rice for $459.75 per metric ton of cost insurance freight. However, oryza global rice showed that it was only $360 per metric ton by prevailing freight on board.

If the cost of shipping worth $27 per metric ton and cost of delivery to warehouse worth $22 would be added, “Vietnam rice should only be $409 per metric ton,” Guevarra said.

Comparing $459.75 and $409, “the overpriced amounts to $50.75 per metric ton” or $10.43 million (P457 million) overprice for 205,700 metric ton.

“This sufficiently explains the [Department of Agriculture’s] and NFA’s overzealous insistence on pushing the private sector out of the international rice trade business,” he said.

Guevarra claimed that the Philippines only entered into contract with Vietnam for the import of only 187,000 metric tons of rice. However, a 18,700-metric ton was allegedly inserted without approval from Fiscal Incentive Review Board.

Monopolistic

The complainant added that the NFA council acted as Alcala’s rubber stamp and acceded to his and Calayag’s “absolute control” of rice trade.

“The NFA Council merely bowed in submission to respondents’ every wish and design” even if there were reasons to believe that the importation was overpriced, and that the additional 18,700 metric tons insertion was illegal.

Guevarra stressed that the respondents wanted to continue a “monopolistic G2G rice smuggling scheme.”

“The diabolical plan is to preserve government monopoly over rice importations in order to earn large kickbacks for themselves by reason of their public offices,” the plunder complaint read.

Guevarra added that he did rounds to check the quality of NFA rice and found that they are “barely edible.”

“It’s practically kaning-baboy [swine fodder]. Is this what Alcala plans to feed to the Filipino masses, aside from lies and excuses?” Guevarra said in closing. JOHN CONSTANTINE G. CORDON

 

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