CONTROVERSIAL businessman Davidson Bangayan admitted on Wednesday using farmers and rice cooperatives to obtain rice allocations but maintained that there was nothing illegal about it.
Bangayan, who according to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is also David Tan, the country’s top rice smuggler, told the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food he had financed farmers associations who were bidding for government rice import allocations.
He said his dealings with the farmers association were not illegal because they are joint ventures that give small farmer cooperatives a chance to import rice.
“It has been an industry practice called consolidation and many are doing it also,” Bangayan told the committee.
In reply to a question by Senate majority leader Alan Peter Cayetano, Bangayan said he was not the only trader transacting with cooperatives.
He said the deals were based on the minimum access volume (MAV), the minimum volume of farm produce, such as rice, allowed to enter the Philippines at reduced tariffs.
The Philippines is allowing 350,000 metric tons (MT) of rice imports at reduced tariff rate of 40 percent. The bulk of the imports is distributed to traders, cooperatives and farmers associations.
At the same hearing, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said she had received sworn statements from two witnesses who positively identified Bangayan as Tan and detailed his transactions with specific cooperatives.
The witnesses said Bangayan, who is also known as DT, would pay for license fees, bid documents bonds and other fees including airfare, accommodation of the officers of the cooperatives in exchange for fronting for him.
Sen. Cynthia Villar said the practice was illegal because the businessman used farmers as fronts to get a bigger share of rice allocations.
Villar, who heads the Senate agriculture committee, cited the policy of the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Agriculture that prohibits dummies or fronts for rice importation.
She said smugglers exploit cooperatives and farmers associations who want to avail themselves of the rice imports not knowing that they were violating the law.
“In the end they [farmers associations]are the ones being charged,” Villar said.
De Lima insisted that Bangayan was Tan.
Senators at the hearing were also convinced that Bangayan and Tan are the same person and that the committee was able to connect him to rice importation.
Villar said the main purpose of the hearing was to be able to link Bangayan to the rice importation and it was up to the Justice department to file the complaints.
In a related development, NBI Director Virgilio Mendez said the identity of Davidson or David was no longer an issue, as far as the bureau is concerned.
The NBI is securing from the National Food Authority and Customs documents to boost its claim that Bangayan is a rice smuggler.