MANILA - The Senate committee on agriculture has summoned businessman David Bangayan and two other individuals to a hearing on rice smuggling on Wednesday.
Committee chair Sen. Cynthia Villar said Senate President Franklin Drilon has signed the subpoenas for the three individuals tagged in the alleged rice smuggling.
Bangayan has appeared before the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to dispute allegations he was the David Tan identified as a big-time rice smuggler.
He was released without being charged although the NBI believes he is the David Tan who has been linked to rice smuggling operations by agriculture industry players.
Villar did not identify the two other individuals named in the subpoena.
Retired military general Jessie Dellosa, deputy commissioner for intelligence of the Bureau of Customs, has claimed the three alleged smugglers were using the name David Tan.
Villar said the subpoena aims to give the three the chance to air their side on the allegations against them.
“We intend to continue our inquiry into rice smuggling, especially in the light of reports of payoffs involving Customs officials and the identification of alleged smugglers,” Villar said.
Government officials invited to the hearing were Secretaries Proceso Alcala of Agriculture, Cesar Purisima of Finance, Gregory Domingo of Trade and Industry and Leila de Lima of Justice, and Customs Commissioner John Philip Sevilla, Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, National Food Authority administrator Orlan Calayag, Securities and Exchange Commission chair Teresita Herbosa and the stakeholders in the rice trading industry.
“Smuggling is one of the reasons why many of our farmers continue to live in poverty. The illegal entry of rice threatens their livelihood and the welfare of two-thirds of our population who depend on agriculture,” Villar said.
She said her committee has been receiving complaints from farmers’ groups about the smuggling operations in the country.
Villar said the alleged smugglers have been claiming they were allowed to import rice, although they apparently lack import permits.
“What is clear is that no import permits have been issued by the NFA so how are these (rice) coming into the ports? They should have import permits,” Villar said in an interview over dwIZ yesterday.
She said a hearing is necessary so the public would have a clearer picture of what is happening, noting that the committee intends to recommend reforms in the rice trading industry.
Shuffle BOC every three years
Meanwhile, De Lima has suggested that officials and employees of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) be shuffled every three years until they retire to minimize corruption in the agency.
She made the suggestion in a letter to Marikina Rep. Miro Quimbo, chairman of the House ways and means committee, who sought her comments on bills seeking to reduce corruption in BOC and strengthen it as a revenue-raising and anti-smuggling office.
“In order to achieve the primary goal of obliterating corruption in the BOC, the sense of familiarity with one Customs location should be prevented,” she said.
“It is therefore suggested that the tenure of Customs personnel in one station be limited to a term of three years, and they will be transferred to another station for another three years continuously until after their retirement from government service,” she said.
She said the three-year rotation should apply to deputy commissioners down to the lowest-paid clerk.
She added her suggestion is in line with the best practices recommended by the World Customs Organization.
De Lima also supported efforts in the House to rewrite the Tariff and Customs Code to make it responsive to the demands of modern trade and commerce.
“In light of public clamor over rampant corruption in the BOC, a new tariff and customs law that will address the widespread violation of the former tariff and customs code due to the incoherence and inconsistencies in its provisions should be a top priority of Congress,” she said. – With Jess Diaz