By Mario Casayuran | Manila Bulletin
Manila, Philippines – David Bangayan and suspected big-time rice smuggler David Tan are one and the same person.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima asserted this yesterday during a face-off at the public hearing by the Senate Agriculture and Food Committee chaired by Senator Cynthia Villar.
The Villar committee is looking into widespread rice smuggling that has greatly prejudiced local rice farmers.
However, Bangayan insisted he is not David Tan.
Asked by Sen. Jose “Jinggoy” Ejercito Estrada whether he is a rice smuggler, Bangayan replied, “No, your honor.”
Tell The Truth Or Go To Jail
This prompted Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile to say, “O, come on. I have documents against this man. Tell the truth or you go to jail.” He then submitted the documents to Villar who will decide what to do with these.
“It is important to know whether Bangayan is David Tan. There’s evidence that the biggest rice smuggler in the Philippines is David Tan. We have to unmask who is this gentleman,” Enrile said, adding that his documents include an arbitration case involving Singapore and India businessmen against Bangayan, which showed that his alias is “David Tan.”
Jess Arranza, president of the Federation of Philippine Industries, corroborated Enrile’s allegation showing a document in a libel case Bangayan had filed against him and former Makati Rep. Teddy Locsin, stating that Bangayan and David Tan are one and the same person.
De Lima said the DOJ has in its possession documents showing that Bangayan is the “mysterious” David Tan whose name is a byword at the waterfront.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) is standing by its findings that Bangayan is David Tan but is continuing to dig deeper to make its conclusions stick, she said. The NBI is not yet divulging details of its ongoing probe, De Lima added.
He admitted, however, that he is into rice importation business where the practice is for the rice traders to consolidate the rice importation privileges of farmers’ cooperatives to import rice through import permits given by the National Food Authority (NFA) and finance their rice importations.
Villar noted that a big portion of the proceeds in the sale of imported rice go to the financier-rice traders which put at a disadvantage rice farmers who were supposed to benefit from such government-approved importations.
Although the consolidation of the farmers’ cooperatives import permits is said to be a normal practice in the rice trading industry, Villar said that “to me, it is against the law.”
As rice traders have used these cooperatives as dummies, it is now up to De Lima to prosecute these rice traders as she (de Lima) herself stated that it is not right and appears to be illegal, Villar added.
“The committee has established the relationship between our importation of rice and David Bangayan. That is the intent of the committee. It is important that David Bangayan is a rice trader. Whether David Bangayan is David Tan are the same, that is important to the DoJ,” she added.
Smugglers Get TRO
At the same hearing, Sen. Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. expressed his surprise that smuggling syndicates have been able to get temporary restraining orders for shipments that are still in the high seas and that these court orders direct the release of the “seized” rice shipments.
Marcos and Villar agreed the figures of neighboring countries exporting rice to the Philippines and the figures of the Bureau of Customs are miles apart. Marcos gave a figure of 16 million bags of rice not recorded by government.
The committee also heard the testimony of De Lima who said that based on expressed provision of current laws and supported by well-settled jurisprudence, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) collector has the exclusive jurisdiction over seizure and forfeiture proceedings and that regular courts cannot interfere.
De Lima warned that rice traders with questionable rice shipments using cooperatives through joint venture might use this as a defense in any case of smuggling charges to be filed.
She said that 26 farmers’ cooperatives were asked by the NBI to explain their joint venture agreements with rice traders but have snubbed NBI probers.
“If they are not hiding anything they could have appeared. They cannot be traced. They are dubious,” she added.
Super Probe Body
Meanwhile, the government is mulling on forming a so-called “super investigative body” that will dig deeper into the alleged rice smuggling activities in the country, NBI Director Virgilio Mendez bared yesterday.
Mendez, who met with De Lima and Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala Tuesday evening, told reporters that the Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Agriculture (DA), the BOC, the NFA, and the NBI are discussing the creation of the inter-agency team that will conduct the rice smuggling probe.
He said the inter-agency team will also unmask those behind the rice smuggling activities in the country today though he clarified their focus is not only on Bangayan or Tan.