Senate rice probe shifts focus

By Marvin Sy, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jan 24 2014 03:03 AM | Updated as of Jan 24 2014 11:03 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Senate committee on agriculture and food is moving from the issue involving alleged big-time smuggler David Tan to focus on other personalities linked to rice smuggling in the country.

Senator Cynthia Villar, chairman of the committee, said she was done with the issue of David Tan after the latter’s connection with businessman David Bangayan had been established.

Bangayan was found to have admitted in an import document in 2005 that he is also known by the name David Tan.

Villar said they would next hear the testimony of Elizabeth Faustino, treasurer of a federation of rice cooperatives known as Biklat, to shed light on the activities of the late Philippine Tourism Authority administrator Nixon Kua. It was alleged that Kua was among the financiers of the farmers’ cooperative for the importation of rice.

“She will shed light on why one of the financiers was murdered… Her name came out during the (Senate) investigation last year as being a broker for Kua,” she said.

Villar said Faustino was identified by some of the cooperatives as the person who provided them with funds, on behalf of Kua.

Faustino also appeared before the Senate committee on agriculture and food’s investigation into rice smuggling in 2012 when it was still chaired by former senator Francis Pangilinan.

At the time, the Bureau of Customs seized about 450,000 50-kilogram sacks of rice abandoned at the Subic Freeport in Zambales, which was reportedly linked to Kua.

Faustino pointed to Kua as the financier and middleman for the multimillion-peso Subic rice shipment.

Kua was killed in what police claimed was a robbery attempt at his home inside an exclusive subdivision in Calamba, Laguna in July 2012, or about the same time the Senate committee on agriculture and food began its probe on the suspected smuggling syndicate at the SBMA.

Magdangal Maralit Bayani III of cooperative St. Andrew Field Grains and Cereal Trading, who was detained for over a month at the Senate, informed the committee that Kua was involved in the seized rice shipment at Subic.

In one of his affidavits submitted to the Senate committee, Bayani said Kua had asked him if he was interested in getting an allocation of the rice stocks at Subic.

“As far as I know he (Kua) was an agent. He approached me to inquire about any interested buyer,” Bayani said during one of the hearings.

He said Kua approached him and informed him that there were still available sacks of rice at Subic and assured him that the rice supply had documents to back up the application of an import permit.

Kua was reportedly a close friend of Angelito Banayo, who was then the administrator of the NFA.

Villar said she was hesitant to invite Banayo in the next hearing because he was already recommended for investigation under the committee report prepared by Pangilinan.

“He is a biased party. It might not be proper to invite him because he is biased,” she said.

Duterte to attend Senate probe

Meanwhile, Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte said yesterday he is willing to attend the Senate inquiry on rice smuggling so he could shed light on the controversy involving Bangayan.

Senator Grace Poe sought to invite Duterte to share any information on Bangayan.

“Of course I will go. I am going to tell the Senate what I have been saying here all along. That would be better,” Duterte said, adding that he has been monitoring the Senate inquiry.

He said he would be more than willing to divulge all information about Bangayan and rice smuggling operation in his city.

However, he said he has not received any invitation from the Senate committee on agriculture and food, which is conducting the inquiry.

De Lima asked to resign

Duterte, who had been at loggerheads with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima over the rice cartel issue, also asked her to step down.

He said De Lima easily opens her mouth for publicity, but has failed to do her job, citing the investigation into the rice smuggling case. –With Edith Regalado, Eva Visperas