MANILA - Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile asked the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into the background of traders and farmers' cooperatives that he suspects are paper organizations or dummies of rice smugglers.
This was after many resource persons invited to the Senate agriculture and food committee's probe on rice smuggling failed to attend a hearing on Wednesday. Of the 26 people who were sent subpoenas, only one attended.
"It gives me the suspicion that they do not exist as organizations. And if they do not exist, they are nothing but paper organizations and therefore dummies of interested and influential parties," Enrile said during the hearing, which was cut short due to the absence of several invited resource persons.
"I move that we direct the NBI to conduct a thorough inquiry into the background of all these identities and report the matter of its findings to this committee, so that we can make the proper actions against them, including their principals."
Enrile told reporters after the hearing that some traders act as dummies to get an allocation from the government's rice importation program and evade taxes.
Senate agriculture and food committee chairman Francis Pangilinan, meanwhile recommended that 20 of those who failed to attend the hearing be cited in contempt and arrested. Of the 20, 11 wrote the committee to say they won't be able to attend the hearing, 4 sent their lawyers, and 5 did not respond to the subpoena.
"The subpoena to appear is a lawful order of the Senate," Pangilinan said after the hearing. "Kung hindi natin i-enforce ito, kung sinu-sino na lang ang magsasabing, 'Hindi kami puwede.' Mawawalan ng saysay ang trabaho natin dito sa Senado. Hindi na rerespetuhin ang mg utos at patakaran natin sa Senado."
Senators will discuss whether to enforce the contempt order at a caucus on Wednesday afternoon.
Last October 17, the committee arrested two resource persons for lying. They have been detained at the Senate detention room since, and won't be released anytime soon because of failing to satisfy the committee with their answers during Wednesday's hearing.
Pangilinan said the committee is determined to get to the bottom of the matter by finding out the people behind an alleged conspiracy to smuggle rice to the country.