“The farmers-as-importers program is nothing but a legal cover provided by the NFA to rice cartels and smugglers to corner the big bulk of rice importation.” – Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – A progressive lawmaker asserted that the government’s policy of rice importation intensified the rice smuggling in the country.
Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap issued the statement after todays’ hearing of the Committee on Agriculture and Food on the issue of rice smuggling.
“Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and NFA Administrator Orlan Calayag have a lot of explaining to do,” Hicap said. “The same entities alleged by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) as rice smugglers are the same entities that were granted importation permits by the National Food Authority (NFA).”
Based on the documents from the National Food Authority’s (NFA), import permits were given to five entities out of 31 applicant importers. The permits were for the importation of well-milled rice under the country specific quota of 163,000 metric tons (MT) for 2013. Among those granted with import permits were Starcraft International Trading Corp. (5,000 MT); San Miguel MPC (5,000 MT); Bold Bidder Marketing and General Merchandise (3,560 MT); Inter-Continental Grains International Trading, Inc. (2,200 MT) and Kwin Rice Trading (5,000 MT). The Starcraft International Trading Corp. allegedly owned by David Bangayan also known as David Tan, the alleged “Goliath” of rice smuggling in the country.
“By the looks of it, rice smuggling happened with government consent,” Hicap added.
“Heads must roll at the Department of Agriculture and NFA over rice smuggling. Massive rice smuggling happened right under their noses and they didn’t do anything to stop it,” Hicap said. “Alleged smugglers use various ways to smuggle rice into the country and government officials knew this all along. It is likely that rice smugglers are using the same processes and routes used by the government for rice import transactions,” the lawmaker added.
Hicap called on the DA and NFA to make public the entire list of rice traders and so-called farmers organizations and cooperatives that were granted rice importation permits.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) challenged the National Bureau of Investigation to “dig deeper into their probe and reveal the people behind the NFA-accredited rice importers including their handlers and protectors in the Aquino government.”
The KMP said “the farmers-as-importers program is nothing but a legal cover provided by the NFA to rice cartels and smugglers to corner the big bulk of rice importation.”
Under the Farmers as Importers Program (FIP), the national government through the NFA allows farmers groups or their cooperatives to import a specific volume of rice, based on the commitment on rice importation under the World Trade Organization (WTO).
“This so-called ‘free trade’ system, in fact, breeds smuggling and corruption. Corrupt government officials profit from direct bribes and protection money coming from smugglers in the so-called ‘free trade’ system,” KMP deputy secretary general Willy Marbella said.
According to a report by Inquirer, the government’s rice imports from Vietnam in 2013 were allegedly overpriced by as much as $18.8 million.
The KMP leader maintained that “the modus operandi of rice cartels and smugglers of using farmers’ cooperatives as dummies is an open secret inside the NFA.”
“Obviously, this multi-million racket in the rice industry is happening with the blessings of the President to his favorite cabinet secretary,” Marbella claimed.