HEADS must roll at the Department of Agriculture (DA) and National Food Authority (NFA) because officials of these agencies knew of rice smuggling activities but did nothing to stop it, according to Rep. Fernando Hicap of Anakpawis.
Hicap said the traders who were issued import permits by the DA were the same people behind rice smuggling.
He said Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and NFA Administrator Orlan Calayag has a lot of explaining to do.
“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 at the start of the House inquiry on rice smuggling by the committee on agriculture.
“By the looks of it, rice smuggling happened with government consent,” he added.
Hicap said rampant rice smuggling is an effect of the government’s rice importation policy that was intensified by the previous and current administrations.
“Imported rice entering the country through legal and illegal means continue to flood the local market,” he said.
Last year, the NFA approved an import quota of 163,000 metric tons (MT) and the agency issued import permits to five entities—Starcraft International Trading Corp. (5,000 MT); San Miguel MPC (5,000 MT); Bold Bidder Marketing and General Merchandise (3,560 MT); Inter-Continental Grains International Trading Inc. (2,200 MT) and Kwin Rice Trading (5,000 MT). A total of 29 import permits were issued with a total volume of 7,475.30 MT.
Starcraft International Trading Corp., which is number one on NFA’s list of traders with import permits, is linked to alleged rice smuggler David Tan.
Trading companies that are waiting for import permits are Pacific Rim Harvester, Aaron’s Trading, Jade Bros. Farm and Livestock, Megdalia de Oro Trading’ Silent Royalty Marketing, Cebu Lite Trading, Malingas Multi-Purpose Cooperative and San Carlos Multi-Purpose Cooperative.
There are 10 other companies that submitted pre-qualification documents for rice importation to the NFA. They are Sta. Rosa Farm Products Corp.; St. Hildegard Grains Ent.; Mineshaft Trading; Calsada Ricemill and Palay Buying; D Platinum Traders Ent.; Mambusao Multi-Purpose Cooperative; Richfarm Products; Universal Pacific and Reward for Effort.
Hicap urged the DA and NFA to publicly post the entire list of rice traders and so-called farmers organizations and cooperatives that were issued rice import permits.
“Alleged smugglers use various ways to smuggle rice into the country and government officials knew this all along. It is likely that rice smugglers are using the same processes and routes used by the government for rice import transactions,” he said.
“Rice smuggling is a bane to the local rice production because smuggled rice released in the local market further pulls down the prices of palay [unhusked rice]produced by local farmers,” he added.
Rep. Emil Ong of Northern Samar, on the other hand, urged the House Committee on Agriculture and Food Security to stop the private sector from importing rice and make the NFA the sole importer to prevent smuggling.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) challenged the House panel and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to scrutinize the list of rice importers granted import permits by the grain agency.
“We challenge the NBI to dig deeper into their probe and reveal the people behind the NFA-accredited rice importers including their handlers and protectors in the Aquino government,” Willy Marbella, the group’s deputy secretary general, said in a statement.
At the Senate committee on agriculture’s hearing last Wednesday, it was alleged that David Bangayan, who is also known as David Tan, is connected with Starcraft International Trading Corp.
At the same hearing, Bold Bidder Marketing was mentioned by a Customs official for acquiring an injunction order from a court in Lemery, Batangas, even before the shipment ordered by the company arrived.
Marbella said Starcraft and Bold Bidder Marketing would not have been accredited and secured import permits if they do not have connections in the DA and NFA.
“It is highly suspect that all along this hullaballoo on rice smuggling, the Aquino government, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and Calayag are both pretending to know nothing on the identity of suspected rice smugglers,” Marbella said.
“Rice smugglers and their dummies cannot secure an import permit if they do not have connections to powerful and influential people like Alcala and Calayag. Calayag’s list shows that all along, the NFA and the DA knows the identity of rice smugglers because they are the ones who provided legal cover for them,” he added.
Marbella said “the modus operandi of rice cartels and smugglers of using farmers’ cooperatives as dummies is an open secret inside the NFA.”
“Obviously, this multimillion-racket in the rice industry is happening with the blessings of the President to his favorite Cabinet secretary. The farmers-as-importers program is nothing but a legal cover provided by the NFA to rice cartels and smugglers to corner the big bulk of rice importation,” he said.