MANILA - First, there was one. Then there were others.
What started as a probe into the alleged rice smuggling empire of businessman Davidson Bangayan, also known as David Tan, has now expanded to include other players in the illegal trade, according to Justice Secretary Leila De Lima.
The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), an attached agency of the Department of Justice (DOJ), is now in the possession of more names involved in rice smuggling in various ports in the country: Cebu, Iloilo, Cagayan De Oro, Davao, Bicol, and Manila, among others.
The DOJ is now verifying the information.
"Ine-expand ngayon ng NBI yung kanilang probe sa issue ng rice smuggling. They're expanding it beyond the case of Davidson Bangayan aka David Tan. May mga pangalang nakakarating sa NBI na diumano bigtime rice smugglers din umano sila from allover the country," De Lima said.
The NBI probe is an offshoot of a Senate inquiry into rice smuggling which began last year, and has resumed recently.
No other details were given regarding these new personalities being linked to the trade which has reportedly bled government of P7 billion in tariffs and duties annually.
THE CASE OF DAVIDSON BANGAYAN
Once evidence against Bangayan, tagged as the rice smuggling "king" of the Philippines, is complete, charges will be filed by the NBI against him ahead of the bureau's findings regarding the other rice smuggling personalities, according to the justice chief.
"Bini-build up namin yun. The moment ripe for filing, pwede na nila (NBI) unahin yun ifile kahit may mga bagong pangalang nakakarating sa NBI na diumano bigtime rice smugglers," De Lima said.
The Senate Committee on Agrculture and Food, which is holding the continuing legislative investigation into rice smuggling, has zeroed in on Bangayan's modus: using farmers cooperatives to secure import permits for rice from the National Food Authority (NFA).
De Lima hit back at critics who expressed dismay at the "slow" pace of the DOJ-NBI probe.
"Gusto ko rin sana maintindihan ng mga nagmamadali na magfile tayo ng kaso na nasa investigative stage tayo. Dati kasi ang DOJ hindi nag-iimbestiga ng smuggling, lalo na rice smuggling, kasi naghihintay lang ang DOJ ng proper complaint from the Bureau of Customs ; DOJ lang magpi-PI (preliminary investigation) to determine probable cause.'
"Ganoon ang naabutan ko po na walang proactive stance ang DOJ... pagpasok ko pa nagkaroon ng proactive stance and DOJ... you can call it a paradigm shift," De Lima said.
She also stressed that once the customs bureau or NBI files the charges, the DOJ has yet to hear the complaints before these are filed in court, thus, considerable time is needed before the cases reach the courts.