Continue investigation on smuggling, Senate urged

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The Senate investigation on rice smuggling should not end with the arrest of the alleged “rice smuggling king” Davidson Bangayan, also known as David Tan, as rice cartel still operates systematically in the country, a lawmaker said on Monday.

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“The Senate hearings on rice smuggling should also unearth the extent of rice cartel operations in the country,” Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap said in a statement sent to The Manila Times.

He urged the Senate committee on agriculture and food to continue its investigation and crackdown in the multi-million peso illicit rice trade industry to unmask the people behind it.

According to Hicap, the cartel consists of rice traders, their dummy organizations and cooperatives and government officials who serve as backers or ‘padrinos’ of the cartel.

“This cartel is behind the massive rice smuggling in the country. Rice smuggling will persist and thrive as long as the rice cartel remain in active operation,” the lawmaker added.

In the series of committee on agriculture and food hearings conducted since last year, it was discovered that rice smugglers use farmers’ cooperatives as fronts to import millions-worth of rice.

Hicap, who represents the farmers, earlier said that smuggled rice has miserable effects to local farmers as it pulls down the prices of palay.

He also called on the immediate sacking of Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Proceso Alcala and National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Orlan Calayag for not doing anything on rice smuggling.

“Heads must roll at the DA and NFA over rice smuggling. Massive rice smuggling happened right under their noses and they didn’t do anything to stop it,” Hicap said.

Citing NFA documents, the lawmaker said that NFA issued five groups out of 31 applicants for importers. The top importer on the list, Startcraft International Trading, is linked to Bangayan. It was allowed by the NFA to import 5,000 metric tons of rice in 2013.

The House committee on agriculture, through Hicap’s House Resolution 722, is yet to conduct its own investigation on the matter.
JHOANNA BALLARAN

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