Rice smuggling on the rise in Aquino administration – UN report

(Photo: mb.com.ph)

Under the administration of President Noynoy Aquino, rice smuggling surged to 2.8 million metric tons (MT) from 2010 to 2014 with market value of PH P83.16 billion pesos compared to one million MT (PH P31.9 billion pesos) from 2005 to 2009, said a report by the United Nations Comtrade report.

The report also showed that the total smuggled agricultural products from 2010 to 2014 was PH P198.7 billion pesos, more than double as compared to PH P94.87 billion pesos from the 2005-2009 under the previous administration.

The committee report was presented during the Senate agriculture and food committee hearing chaired by Senator Cynthia Villar to inquire into the updates on the status of rice smuggling in the country.

The UN report was contested by National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Renan Dalisay, who insisted rice smuggling had diminished in 2015 based on report to him by BOC Commissioner Bert Lina.

”I’m willing to resign if smuggling is rampant now, especially last year,” Dalisay told the media after the hearing recently.

But Dalisay failed to present any data to substantiate his claim. He stressed there is no government data from 2010-2014 on smuggled rice. He blamed the smuggling of agricultural products to the construction of “too many private wharfs in the country.”

Villar also grilled Dalisay for not shifting the importation of rice from private to government-to- government (GtoG).

She said they have been recommending GtoG for importation of rice and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima agreed with her “but you have not followed our recommendation and that’s why we have rampant smuggling.”

Dalisay said the NFA Council, that also includes Purisima, made the decision to stick to the rice importation using the farmers cooperatives.

He said the Department of Finance, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and Department of Trade and Industry have been pushing private importation “specially the implementation of the quantitative restriction (QR).”

”We respect the opinion of Senator Villar but this (private importation) is the decision of the council. We’re just implementor. The least we can do is to improve the private importation,” Dalisay later told reporters.

Dalisay said the NFA has abolished the import permits of at least 27 cooperatives throughout the country to address the issue of smuggling.

But Villar said she believes the UN report. “Of course, they will say that (they do not believe in the figures of the UN) because they are the government. The UN is a third party, not biased. Why will the UN distort its figures, tell me? What’s the reason?” she said.

”We are very disappointed with the DOJ for not filing case against these smugglers. We are losing interest with DOJ because if we will not file any case, the smugglers will say, that’s nothing, (it’s) all talks. Isn’t it appalling?” Villar told the senate hearing.

Villar questioned the DOJ’s failure to file case against suspected smuggler David Bangayan (a.k.a. David Tan) who admitted paying the cooperatives to use their permits to import rice. ”Mr. Bangayan was questioned by the DOJ and the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) but no case was ever filed against him regarding illegal rice importation or smuggling,” said Villar.

DOJ state counsel Luz Macasinag made the same promise: “We will make the necessary report.”

Villar also grilled the Bureau of Customs for not implementing the recommendation of former BOC Commissioner John Sevilla to computerize all the BOC transactions under the National Single Window (NSW) system. (MCA)