MANILA - The Senate committee investigating rice smuggling in the country has warned Eugene Pioquinto of Starcraft International Trading Corporation that he could be cited for contempt if he continues to answer “evasively.”
Committee chair Cynthia Villar grilled Pioquinto about his relationship with rice trader Magdangal Diego Bayani III of St. Andrews Fields Grains who was once detained in the Senate in 2012 for refusing to cooperate in a Senate investigation conducted by the previous Congress.
At first, Pioquinto said Bayani was a mere “acquaintance” but later admitted they were friends after Villar showed photos of them together on several occasions including outings. They’re not the best of friends, claimed Pioquinto.
Villar wanted to establish Pioquinto’s links to rice traders and brokers who are being accused of smuggling rice including Emmanuel Santos and possibly Davidson Bangayan.
Pioquinto denied being an employee of Santos.
Pioquinto refused to answer further in the absence of a lawyer. He also cited a pending criminal case in court against him for smuggling.
Meanwhile, Emmanuel Santos of EA Santos Customs Brokerage and who has previously admitted that he is a business partner of Bangayan and Pioquinto was not able to attend today’s hearing.
His lawyer said that Santos was on his way to the Senate this morning but got dizzy and had difficulty in breathing.
Broker Elizabeth Faustino was also a no-show in the hearing and was cited for conditional contempt.
Villar said that the Senate doctor would visit Faustino to verify her medical condition and that she would be arrested by the Senate sergeant-at-arms if the doctors find no reason for her not to attend the Senate inquiry.
Villar has also requested the Bureau of Immigration to place her on a lookout bulletin.
Faustino was supposed to have undergone a gallbladder operation.
David Lim and Judilyne Lim of DGL Commodities, Inc. also failed to attend the hearing.
Their lawyer said Mrs. Lim underwent a knee operation today.
Villar asked that a medical certificate be produced until tomorrow or Lim would be arrested.
She had already been previously cited for contempt. Lim has denied that her company used farmers’ cooperatives to smuggle rice.
An employee of Lim, Leah Echeveria, is “still in hiding,” according to Romulo Asis of the National Bureau of Investigation.
Asis told the committee that the NBI has located the residence of Echeveria and that it would be ready to serve the committee’s subpoena if it is issued.
Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) president Rosendo So announced that a P200,000 bounty has been raised for any information about the whereabouts of Echeveria.