Senate orders arrest of 2 alleged rice smugglers

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 05 2012 03:09 PM | Updated as of Sep 06 2012 11:09 AM

MANILA, Philippines – The Senate has ordered the arrest of 2 suspected rice smugglers for allegedly lying to the Senate joint committee investigating the alleged smuggling of rice from India and Vietnam.

The joint committees on Agriculture and Food, Ways and Means, Trade and Commerce and Accountability of Public Officers and Investigations approved the motion of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to cite in contempt Cesar Ramirez of the Federation of San Miguel Cooperatives and Robson Agro Ventures Corporation and Indian national Protek Guha, CEO of the Amira C. Foods International DMCC.

Agriculture committee chair Senator Francis Pangilinan explained that Guha misrepresented himself before the committee when he said the 420,000 sacks of rice from India were not meant to be sold locally. The shipment is worth $10 million.

Ramirez, on the other hand, was cited for initially telling the panel that he did not send an e-mail to Guha for the transactions but later admitting that he did.

The contempt order is indefinite.

Guha, however, is in India and could not travel overseas on doctor's orders due to hypertension and vertigo.

His legal counsel Demetrio Custodio will file a motion for reconsideration after he filed a new submission today.

Custodio earlier explained he will inform his client of the developments and will endeavor to have him attend the next hearing on September 12.

'Supplemental submission'

Pangilinan likewise said Ramirez made a supplemental submission which will be considered in deciding Ramirez's detention.

Pangilinan said that in his submission, Ramirez admitted to making a mistake, asserting he did not intend to lie but was merely rattled when he was being questioned.

Ramirez has been taken into Senate custody by the Senate Sgt.-at-Arms Jose Balajadia.

Balajadia explained that after the medical check up, Ramirez will be detained in a room at the Senate and checked by doctors daily until he is released.

Balajadia says Ramirez told him he is suffering from diabetes and was just released from the hospital.

Ramirez was already asked to show cause why he should not be cited in contempt.

A 3rd contempt citation looms against Diego Bayani III of St. Andrews Field Grains and Cereal Trading for refusing to answer questions on his business partners as senators sought to probe allegations of collusions between rice importers and cooperatives.

During today's hearing, Ramirez drew Enrile's ire for inconsistencies when asked if he prepared a contract for Amira.

Enrile also noted that there was more rice in the shipment than in the papers for the shipment.

The Senate leadership told the Bureau of Customs that they can already dispose of the rice in an above board transaction.

Rice shipment

Meantime, Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon said the bureau is now finalizing the forfeiture of the rice smuggled from India as well as the separate 90 container vans of rice from Vietnam worth P45 million.

Biazon said no one has come forward to dispute the forfeiture of rice from Vietnam.

He said cases may be filed in 2 weeks.

Biazon explained that the rice was considered illegally imported because these did not have the proper documentation. The rice shipment was supposed to be coursed through rice cooperatives.

Biazon also said he has already been named by President Aquino as a senatorial candidate of the administration, chosen over his dad, former senator and now Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon.