Broker links ex-NFA chief to questionable rice imports

A RICE broker and importer, who testified in Senate’s rice smuggling probe, linked former National Food Authority (NFA) administrator Lito Banayo to questionable entry of imported rice into the country.

Simeon Sioson of Federation of San Miguel Cooperatives told the Senate committee on agriculture chaired by Senator Francis Pangilinan that Banayo has been giving “favourable treatment” to some importers suspected behind the botched rice smuggling at Subic Freeport.

“Mr. Banayo has a lot to explain on why only favoured farmers’ cooperatives were accredited to import rice,” Sioson said.

He said he was willing to tell all about the alleged Banayo operations if the Senate would provide him protection and ensure his personal safety.

With this, Pangilinan as approved by Senate President Juan Ponce, to give security to Sioson. He is now under the security of Office of the Sergeant-At-Arms of the Senate.

With this, Enrile also asked the committee to immediately summon Banayo to appear and  explain the process of accrediting cooperatives to buy or import rice to fill up the deficit in the country’s rice requirements following allegations of unchecked rice smuggling.

It was revealed in the probe that the syndicates could have netted a conservative P3.8 billion profit from importing 380,000 metric tons of the total 500,000 rice deficit in the country’s rice requirement this year alone to the prejudice of farmers’ cooperatives.

‘’Iba ang kumikita. Ginagamit lang kayo,’’ Enrile told officers of farmers’ cooperatives. (Others are raking in. You are just being used.)

Banayo resigned as NFA chief in the first week of October to prepare for his bid for a congressional seat in the May 2013 mid-term elections.

The recall of  Banayo to the Senate committee hearing was sought by Senate President Pro Tempore Jose ‘’Jinggoy’’ Estrada.
Elizabeth Faustino, a member of a rice cooperative in San Miguel, Bulacan also implicated the late former Philippine Tourism Authority (PTA) Administrator Nixon Kua into the rice smuggling controversy.

Faustino alleged that Kua was their financier in their bid to import at least 19,000 metric tons of rice.

Kua was killed in a supposed robbery attempt inside an exclusive subdivision in Laguna last July.

In a related development, Pangilinan set free from Senate custody Magdangal Diego Maralit Bayani III, of St. Andrews Field Grains and Cereal Trading, after he finally named his financier of the rice importation to the committee.

Bayani has been arrested and kept at the Senate security office for the past 45 days for refusing to identify his financier.

As a result, Pangilinan asked the alleged financier, Danilo Garcia, to appear before the next committee hearing on Monday.

Bayani said he was promised a P1 million commission for fronting Garcia’s outfit in buying 10,000 metric tons of imported rice.

Enrile said one of his proposed recommendations for the committee to adopt is that the government should remake or remodel its procedure so that the ‘’free portion’’ in the total rice to be imported by government could be purchased by legitimate farmers’ cooperatives, not third parties or syndicates.

Government should also evaluate the capacities of rice cooperatives.

Pangilinan said that ‘’there were lapses in the gaps in the accreditation and determination of the capacities’’ of farmers’ cooperatives.

Although the Enrile computation of P3.8 billion probable profit of syndicates from the 380,000 metric tons opened to the public for importation is conservative, Pangilinan has a higher estimate.

‘’It is anywhere from P3 billion to P7 billion,’’ he said.

To help these farmers cooperatives have the financial muscle to import rice, Pangilinan strongly proposed that government allow them easy access to credit and give them the ‘’proper support of processing and documentation but basically the capacity to have funds.’’

‘’If they (syndicates) can profit from P3 billion to P7 billion, that is viable,’’ he added.

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