MANILA - Sen. Cynthia Villar has come to the defense of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, saying the tough-talking mayor's death threat against smuggler David Tan should be taken figuratively.
Villar, chairwoman of the Senate committee on agriculture, noted that the Davao official needs to be tough in order to maintain peace and order in his city in Mindanao.
"Ako po, I always take iyong word ni Mayor Duterte figuratively. Hindi iyon patay kung patay. Parang nagagalit lang siya sa mga criminal kaya kapag siya ay naiinis sinasabi niya na papatayin ko. But never na pinatay niya, for me ha. Kasi I always go to Davao City, familiar ako sa kanya, nakakasama ko siya," she told reporters.
"Kasi he has to be tough in Davao City. Nakita nyo naman kapag hindi tough ang mayor sa Mindanao, medyo marami ang umaabuso," she added.
Villar said she does not know if she will have Duterte's statements stricken from the record since she is new in the Senate.
Asked if she believes that the mayor will follow through with his threat, she said: "Hindi ko alam kung ano ang gagawin niya, but for me, I take it figuratively."
Duterte earlier told a Senate rice smuggling probe that he will not hesitate to kill smuggling "Goliath" David Tan if he catches him in the act of smuggling rice shipments to Davao City. [WILL NOT HESITATE - http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/focus/02/03/14/duterte-warns-david-tan-i-will-gladly-kill-him]
"If this guy would go to Davao and start to unload, pag nakita ko siya in the commission of a crime, I will gladly kill him...Siyempre hihintayin ko siyang lumabas. Pag lumaban ito and he puts up a good fight, I will not hesitate. I will do it for my country," he said.
Duterte said he has received reports that businessman Davidson Bangayan is really alleged rice smuggling king David Tan.
He described Tan as the central figure in rice smuggling in the country, with the power to bring smuggled goods to ports in Davao City, Manila, Cebu, Cagayan de Oro and Batangas. This is done through outright smuggling, using "recycled" import permits and undervaluation of goods, he said.
Enough to pin Bangayan
In the interview, Villar said the Senate probe on rice smuggling should put pressure on the Department of Justice to file smuggling charges against Bangayan.
She said the investigation has already proven Bangayan's links to the rice importation business in the country.
"At least na-connect namin siya sa rice trading and definitely, hindi naman ako lawyer, but my opinion, iyong gagamitin mo ang ibang tao to import for your benefit, that is illegal. Kasi hindi iyon ang intent of the law for them. It's a system na kalakaran daw, for me, it's illegal. So nasa ating judiciary na iyan to determine. Marami kasing opinion, but for me that is enough to show that what they are doing is illegal," she said.
Bangayan earlier confirmed before the Senate hearing that he is involved in rice importation despite not having an importer's license from the National Food Authority.
He admitted making joint ventures with farmers' groups for the rice shipments but said there is nothing illegal with this practice.
Villar said a previous Senate investigation had already identified David Tan as a financier of farmers' groups out to bag import contracts from the NFA.
Some personalities linked to rice smuggling have already left the country, she said.
The senator also noted that the investigation has yet to establish a concrete connection between Bangayan and officials of government agencies such as the Bureau of Customs and NFA.
"Wala kasing nagwi-witness. Unlike iyong link niya sa rice trading, may nag-witness. Iyong link niya sa mga cooperatives, may nag-witness. Nakuha namin itong link nitong mga consolidator to them dahil iyong mga kumpanya, they are in the same companies. Pero so far, maski si Mayor Duterte, wala siyang masabing name ng mga government officials na linked kay Bangayan," she said.