Senate orders rice importer arrested

by Zen Hernandez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Aug 29 2012 08:47 PM | Updated as of Aug 30 2012 07:31 PM

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food has ordered the arrest of rice importer Magdangal Bayani III of St. Andrew's Field Grains and Cereal Trading cooperative, for failure to comply with a Senate subpoena on the alleged smuggling of P450 million worth of rice from India, which was entered through the Subic Bay Freeport Zone (SBMA).

The Senate wants to hear Bayani's testimony for being one of two cooperatives who signified interest in buying the 420,000 sacks of Indian white rice being questioned.

Alfredo Cruz of another cooperative called GPI San Miguel Multi Purpose Cooperative, meanwhile, sent a lawyer and informed the committee that he is suffering high blood pressure and thus, unable to attend.

Committee chairman Sen. Francis Pangilinan ordered the Senate physician to verify this.

The committee ordered five key witnesses last week to respond to a show cause order and explain why they shouldn't be cited for contempt.

Among those issued a show cause order include Protik Guja, Chief Executive Officer of Amira Foods; Stefani Saño of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority; Cesar Bulaon, VP of Metro Eastern Trading Corporation; Cesar Ramirez of a farmers cooperative in General Santos; and Vicente Cuevas III.

GPI San Miguel is a member of Ramirez's federation of cooperatives. But GPI San Miguel gave St. Andrews their spot so the latter can represent them in the importation.

Meanwhile, a new witness, Saumit Ghosh, another Indian national working as Manager for Amira foods, confirmed that the cargo was originally meant to be delivered to Jakarta, Indonesia.

It docked on March 8 and stayed there until March 27 before Guja ordered him to charter a vessel and bring it to Subic. It arrived in Subic, April 4.

Ghosh confirmed that he received instructions from Guja to amend the contract between the shipper and vessel owner to indicate additional travel to the Philippines.

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile wants Ramirez and the rest to be cited in contempt though and detained for blatantly lying under oath.

An enraged Enrile said, "Ikulong na dapat lahat ng mga tao dito. You cannot lie under oath. We will make you sleep in detention centers."

During the past hearings, Ramirez denied that he knew Guja of Amira Foods, only to admit later on, in his reply to the show cause order, that he had exchanged email messages with Guja.

The committee will study this proposal by Enrile and decide next week. They also postponed their decision on the show cause orders since Senator Ralph Recto also requested for more time to read the response of each witness.

The next hearing is scheduled next Wednesday at 9:30 a.m.