Probe sought on NFA for ‘shady’ rice deals

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AN activist lawyer on Monday asked the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council (IAAGCC) to investigate the government’s rice importation transactions amid numerous reports of overpricing and corruption.

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In a letter addressed to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, lawyer Argee Guevarra asked them to direct the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to form a special task force to examine and investigate the rice importation transactions undertaken by the National Food Authority (NFA) and to look into allegations of corruption at the Department of Agriculture (DA) and NFA “with the same zeal it has demonstrated in blowing the case wide open in the Napoles pork scam.”

Guevarra urged the IAAGCC to order an investigation on the NFA’s 2013 rice imports for what he calls “white collar economic sabotage and/or profiteering.”

“The questionable importation by the NFA of 187,000 metric tons [MT] [plus an additional 18,700]of rice under a government-to-government agreement last April . . . is overpriced by as much as P450 million for a single transaction,” Guevarra estimates.

Guevarra also requested the IAAGCC to assist him to facilitate “the admission of informed person/s from the rice industry who are now exploring the prospect and weighing the consequences of entering the Witness Protection Program of the Department of Justice” and requested the anti-graft body for any reports of investigations conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation during the time of Arroyo.

He claimed that the DA and NFA April 2013 imports from Vietnam totaling 205,700 MT of rice was overpriced by P457 million.

Guevarra’s exposé was corroborated by Ang Gawad Pinoy Consumers Cooperative head, Atty. Tonike Padilla, who added that the overpricing may balloon to P2 billion should the DA-NFA’s planned 700,000 MT rice importation in November push through.

“I invite your attention to the fact that during this year’s speech of His Excellency, President Benigno Aquino 3rd in his State of the Nation Address, he proudly announced that the country is already rice sufficient thus militating against the need for further rice importation, especially so under a government-to-government agreement negotiated and entered into by NFA officials under an environment that affords the least transparency and accountability; and more so, when the same is deemed to be overpriced,” Guevarra wrote, citing news reports.

In his 2010 SONA, Aquino criticized the previous administration of former President Gloria Arroyo for importing rice that was allegedly overpriced by an average of $60 per metric ton.

However, Guevarra revealed that “a check with the Oryza Global Rice price showed that the NFA April import under the Aquino administration was also overpriced by at least $50, in addition to a purportedly undeclared ‘additional purchase’ of 18,700 MT.”

“Raising my personal fears that the Arroyo-era rice importation and price manipulation schemes navigate well into the daang matuwid of the President’s policy against corruption is the fact that there seems to be an insertion of an additional purchase of 18,700 metric tons of rice representing 10 percent of the 187,000 metric tons of rice, which can easily be construed as another layer of tongpats of this transaction,” said Guevarra.

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