MANILA - Rice smuggling continues amid the crackdown already being implemented by the Senate and government agencies, Senator Ralph Recto said.
At the hearing of the Senate committee on agriculture and food on Tuesday, Recto said he received information rice smuggling persists especially at the compounds of the National Food Authority (NFA).
"Lumalabas na nagpapalusot ang NFA ng rice, ini-isyuhan ng permit after the fact," Recto said.
"We are bringing this to the attention of the committee, hanggang ngayon nangyayari pa rin.”
NFA Deputy Administrator Ludovico Jarina did not deny Recto’s claim.
Recto asked Jarina, "Napapalusutan kayo?”
Jarina responded, “Yes, your honor.”
He also did not deny that some NFA personnel have been conduits for smuggling.
Jarina said the NFA is already doing what is needed to curb the illegal practices within the organization.
Senator Cynthia Villar, the chairman of the committee, could not help but comment after the admission: "Dapat nagbago na kayo by 2013, resulta pa yan ng investigations ng 2012.”
X-ray machines vs smugglers
Meanwhile, both senators also questioned the Bureau of Customs (BOC) on its alleged inability to computerize its system.
Customs Commissioner John Philip Sevilla said the bureau is still studying the best software system to apply.
"Half of the entire premise of BOC in Manila is an Internet dead spot," Sevilla said.
"Money is not the issue. It’s about designing the system properly.”
When Recto asked how long it will take for BOC to implement computerization, Sevilla said, "I’m confident it will be towards the end of the year.”
Sevilla added the BOC is also now focusing on acquiring more X-ray machines for the containers and employing competent personnel to manage them. At present, the BOC can only scan about 15% of daily arrivals.
"The big challenge is we need to use our resources better to open containers, because at the end of the day, yun lang ho ang panakot namin [against smugglers],” he said.
The committee is now into its fifth hearing into the alleged rice smuggling in the country.
Businessman Davidson Bangayan, who is believed to be rice smuggling king David Tan, was absent.
Lawyer Benito Salazar said his client was confined at a hospital in Laoag, Ilocos Norte due to back pains. They have yet to receive the complete diagnosis from doctors.
The Senate committee has recommended filing perjury charges against Bangayan for allegedly lying in his testimony.
The committee has also previously asked the Department of Justice to place Bangayan under its watch list. It has also asked the Department of Foreign Affairs, through the Office of the Solicitor General, to cancel Bangayan's passport.
Other suspected rice smugglers - Judilyne Lim of DGL Commodities and Emmanuel Santos of Jade Bros. Farm and Livestock Inc. - also testified before the Senate today.
Lim invoked her right against self-incrimination while Santos categorically denied he was a smuggler. "Hindi po ako smuggler, hindi po ako nagsisinungaling," Santos said.
Both the BOC and the NFA testified they don’t have records of Santos’ import permits.