Illegal rice importation probed

THE House Committee on Good Government and Public Accountability is digging deeper into the alleged illegal rice importations thru the Subic and Legazpi ports, roughly worth P487-million amid public perception that the “Philippines is the center of rice smuggling.”

“This committee is conducting this inquiry, not only in aid of legislation, because we are also mandated to recommend the filing of the necessary charges, if so warranted,” by Rep. Jerry Treñas (Lone District, Iloilo), chair of the House body.

The House panel has invited the officials of the BOC and SBMA and other concerned agencies to attend the investigation to shed light on the matter.

Rep. Jeci Lapus (3rd District, Tarlac) earlier filed a measure requesting the committee to conduct an inquiry on the report of the SBMA on the attempt to smuggle some 90 container-vans containing Indian rice, and the seizure by the BOC Port of Legazpi, Albay of 94,000 bags of rice on board the Vessel MINH Tuan 68 originating from Vietnam.

The rice was misdeclared as construction materials and gypsum boards or lacks the necessary NFA clearance to import in the case of transshipments.

To stress the seriousness of the investigation, Treñas called the attention of Joel Reyes, chief of Auction & Cargo Disposal Unit, BOC-Subic, for sporting a “funny face” during the hearing. “It’s not fun in Congress,” Treñas said.

“Maybe the buyer is also the smuggler,” Rep. Philip Pichay (1st district, Surigao del Sur) surmised, eliciting the intriguing smile from Reyes who subsequently apologized to the panel for his “unintentional reaction.”

Pichay raised the issue on the requirements imposed before any bidder or buyer could qualify in an open bidding process of seized goods and cargoes.

“It appears that the requirements imposed on bidders do not in any way show that the winning bidder has the financial capability to cover the huge amounts needed for the subject rice imports,” Pichay said.

Pichay said financial capacity is one of the very vital requirements for a bidder to qualify as bidder, especially when the goods involve huge amounts, adding that the “possibility of winning bidders being the alleged dummies of smuggler-importers is not remote.”

Pichay said the winning bidders are unable to substantiate or prove the legitimacy of their sources of funding to finance their multi-million bid; their case could fall within the coverage of the anti-Money Laundering law or AMLA.

“There could be a case of money laundering,” Pichay said.

Rep. Andres Salvacion (3rd District, Leyte) asked the panel to summon Redentor Tuazon, former Seaport Manager SBMA; Mike Quintos of SBMA; Stephanie Sanio, Senior Deputy Administrator of SBMA; and Jerome Marinez, SBMA Deputy Administrator and Seaport Manager, to appear during the panel’s next hearing.

Salvacion said there is a need to amend the bidding guidelines because, as it is, the guidelines seem to “induce” smugglers to pursue their trade since, in the end; they still end up winning the bounty through bidding.

Salvacion said there is public perception that the Port of Subic has become the “center of rice smuggling in the region.”

Also present as resource persons to shed light on the rice importations, among others, were Leovigildo Dayoja, District Collector, BOC Port of Legazpi; Robert Garcia, Chairman and Administrator, SBMA; and Fidel De la Cruz of Seaport Department, SBMA; and Jose Cordero, Assistant Administrator of the NFA.

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