MANILA - Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala on Monday fired back at Sanlakas part-list president Atty. Argee Guevarra, saying the lawyer is just out to get attention when he said the government bought overpriced rice from Vietnam.
In an interview on ANC's Headstart, Alcala said he does not know why Guevarra would accuse him of approving the purchase of overpriced rice when he does not actively participate in the bidding.
He also accused Guevarra of pushing for higher rice importations by the private sector.
"Ang tingin ko po diyan kay Atty Guevarra ay nagpapansin lang yan at gustong sila'y pansinin at gusto nilang madiskaril ang takbo ng department. Ako, personally, hindi ko alam ang presyo-presyo na yan," he said.
"Sa totoo lang, hindi ko alam lahat ng detalye because I don't participate. Wala na po ako dun. Basta i pe-peg kung ano ang i- importahen. May kanya kanyang trabaho po tayo hindi lang [National Food Authority] rice. Mapapagalitan ako ng Pangulo at ng mga tao if I just focus on that," he added.
A Philippine Daily Inquirer report earlier said the government’s rice imports from Vietnam in 2013—which totaled 705,700 metric tons—were allegedly overpriced by as much as $18.8 million or around P825.4 million.
Alcala, however, countered that the bidding for the government-to-government rice shipments was done in a transparent manner.
He conceded though that Thailand gave a lower bid after the import contract was already awarded to Vietnam but the government could no longer back out of the deal.
"After the bidding, after a day, yung Thailand ay naghahabol nag mas mura pa. Mag bi-bid ng mas mura e we cannot do that. Masisira tayo sa international comunity. So yun ang sinasabi natin. Dapat po pag nag-bid yung pinakabest possible price ang i-submit mo. We told Thaialnd and they sent us a represenative and we explained what happened," he said.
Last week, Guevarra filed an 18-page plunder complaint before the Office of Ombudsman against Alcala and National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) president and chief executive officer Honesto Baniqued.
In his complaint, Guevarra accused Alcala and Baniqued of plundering at least P1.07 billion from public coffers, and hinted that a whopping P11.4 billion could also have been pocketed by agriculture officials based on the Annual Audit Report of Nabcor by the Commission on Audit (COA).
Among others, the complaint accused Alcala of "a pattern of overt criminal acts," which was used "to finance the losing bid of his son, Irvin," using funds that were allegedly derived from kickbacks and projects in Nabcor.
Alcala, meanwhile, said he will answer the charges once he receives a copy of the complaint.
David Bangayan not a registered rice dealer
In the same interview, the agriculture chief also confirmed that businessman David Bangayan, who is accused of being alleged smuggling king David Tan, is not a registered rice dealer.
Alcala said Bangayan had already admitted before the Senate agriculture committee hearing last week that he is involved in rice importation.
He said he checked Bangayan's name with DA's records and confirmed that the businessman is not allowed to import rice.
"He is not a registered rice dealer. To be a rice trader, you must have a license. Wala po siyang papeles," he said.
Bangayan earlier confirmed that he funds farmers' cooperatives to participate in the National Food Authority (NFA) bidding for rice import quotas. He, however, said that he has not done anything illegal.