More agricultural groups are pooling funds to raise reward money for the arrest of suspected rice smugglers.
For instance, a rice farmers’ lobby has offered a case bounty for any information on the whereabouts of a certain Leah Echevaria, an alleged conduit of rice smugglers.
In a statement, the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) said they have allocated P200,000 reward money for witnesses who will come forward to locate and identify rice smugglers.
Last January, rice farmers and member-producers belonging to Sinag launched the “Piso Piso ng Mamamayan Kontra Smuggling” to raise reward money for witnesses.
At present, farmers’ groups and federations from Northern, Southern and Central Luzon have raised about P135,000 from their own pockets, knowing the importance of identifying and prosecuting the smugglers who have been wreaking havoc on their livelihoods and the whole agriculture industry.
Sinag has also raised an additional P180,000 from concerned citizens, many of whom have remained anonymous but were very much concerned with the adverse impact of smuggling on food security, job losses and the economy.
“Out of the current fund, P0.2 million has been allocated for any information on Ms. Echevaria alone. The remaining fund and those that will be raised are for other suspected smugglers who will continue to evade authorities,” Sinag Chairman Rosendo So said.
So said the bounty will be placed in the care of the office of Sen, Cynthia Villar, whose committee is spearheading the probe into rice smuggling.
The agriculture industry alliance said Echeveria remains at large and has been evading the summons of the Philippine Senate since hearings on rice smuggling started in 2012. Echevaria has been accused by farmers’ cooperatives of using them for illegal rice trade.
Meanwhile, the group stressed that the National Food Authority (NFA) remained the sole authority to regulate the rice industry, including the accreditation and issuance of rice import permits, regardless of the status of negotiations for the country’s special treatment on rice.
“With or without the quantitative restriction [QR] on rice, the authority to issue import permits by the NFA remains valid unless we enact new legislation that will remove that authority from the NFA. It is not the World Trade Organization nor the expiration of the QR that will automatically remove the authority of the NFA,” it said.
Sinag stressed that the country’s commitment with the WTO was bound by the enactment of subsequent local legislation, and not the interpretation of so-called trade experts or even a Cabinet secretary.
“Regardless of the QR status, only the NFA has the mandate to authorize private entities to import rice; without such authority from the NFA, bringing rice to the country is clearly smuggling,” said Jayson Cainglet, Sinag executive director.
“Regulation of import permits and importer accreditation are being done across all agricultural commodities and by all WTO member countries for food safety and public health security concerns,” added Cainglet.
Earlier, Agriculture Undersecretary Emerson Palad said that a WTO sanction against the Philippines is “very unlikely” despite statements by private sector backed groups that the QR has already lapsed.
In a related development, Sinag filed four more administrative cases against erring RTC judges who ordered the release of smuggled rice seized by the Bureau of Customs sans the required import permits.
Sinag said it would seek disciplinary action from the Supreme Court against Manila RTC Judge Cicero Jurado, Batangas RTC Judge Eutiquio Quitain and Manila RTC Judge Maria Paz Reyes-Yson for gross misconduct and knowingly rendering an unjust judgment.