Duterte, ‘David Tan’ to face off in Senate rice smuggling hearing

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

MANILA -- Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte and Davidson Bangayan will be invited in the next hearing of the Senate committee on agriculture and food to shed light on the prevalence of rice smuggling in the country.

Duterte earlier said Bangayan and the alleged king of rice smuggling "David Tan" were one and the same person. But the businessman denied it.

In Wednesday's hearing, Senator Grace Poe said that it is high time that the real David Tan be unmasked to put a stop to the rampant illegal smuggling of rice in the country.

Poe said Duterte can present witnesses that will attest before the panel on the real identity of Bangayan and David Tan.

Duterte had said a cartel of 26 Davao-based cooperatives is reportedly cornering supplies of rice from the National Food Authority (NFA).

But the mayor warned smugglers not to operate in Davao City as he expressed willingness to take the law into his hands in order to stop this illegal scheme that is already hurting farmers in his province.

Based on reports, David Tan and several other Chinese names were identified as the big traders that are cornering a big chunk of the country's rice imports under the 2013 quantitative restriction import mode of the agency.

The National Bureau of Investigation had taken action on the Senate's order to pursue the leads on the big-time rice smugglers two years ago.

As a result, the names of Willy Sy, Danny Ngo and David Lim, alleged cohorts of Tan, were mentioned during the Senate committee hearing.

Lim who was present at the hearing denied all the allegations as he pointed to his wife as the one in charge of their business.

Starcraft International Trading Corporation was reportedly the company being used by David Tan to deceive authorities about the goods that they were importing.

Bangayan denied that he owns Starcraft but it was learned that his legal counsel, Benito Salazar, is also the lawyer of Starcraft.

He reiterated during the hearing that he and rice smuggler David Tan were not one and same. He said that there is no way he will use the surname Tan because his mother is Victoria Ong Bangayan while his biological father is Dee Tin Han.

Bangayan initially refused to accept a subpoena issued by the Senate as it was addressed to a "David Tan." But Senator Cynthia Villar, the committee chairman, was quick to say that the Senate will not hesitate to cite Bangayan for contempt should he refused to attend the hearing.

The subpoena addressing Davidson Bangayan as "David Tan" was sent to him at unit 401 Prestige Tower, Ortigas Ave., Pasig City.

During the hearing, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile said Bangayan is a "liar" and is trying to manipulate everyone by denying that he is David Tan.

Enrile presented Jesus Arranza, president of the Federation of Philippine Industries, who said during the hearing that he was sued for libel by Bangayan in 2005.

Arranza said Bangayan attested in his sworn affidavit in 2005 that he was the same person as David Tan.

Arranza said David Tan was apparently an alias of Bangayan as he presented a document before the Senate investigating body signed by the said businessman last 2005, during his appearance at the Regional Trial Court in Calamba, Laguna.

Bangayan filed a libel suit against Arranza.

The case was filed in connection with the Singaporean firm who accused Bangayan of smuggling garbage, instead of scrap metal into India. In an affidavit from the Singaporean firm, Bangayan was identified as having the alias David Tan.

Aside from misdeclaration, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said these big players like David Tan are using other schemes like using cooperatives and farmers in legal bidding and the World Trade Organization commitment Quantitative Restriction that allow the volume or rice importation.

"Deklarado nila ay mga hardware o construction materials. Ngunit ang totoo ay mga bigas ito," de Lima said.

Some importers, de Lima said even pad their shipments and divert deliveries to other warehouses other than those controlled by the NFA.

Senate President Franklin Drilon encouraged de Lima to define the jurisdiction of the courts after it was revealed that the local courts are issuing injunction orders against possible seizure by the Bureau of Customs.

"Sobrang lakas ng grupo na ito. Wala pang seizure may nakahanda na silang injunction," said Senator Ralph Recto.

Customs Chief John Philip Sevilla admitted that while his agency has been issuing alert orders and directives to hold suspected smuggled rice, importers have resorted to seeking court injunctions, which allow the release of their shipments.

Sevilla also said that the BOC has been issued three court orders in Davao, Manila and Batangas preventing his bureau to hold suspected illegal rice shipments.

"We do not allow the entry of rice without import permit. If there is no permit it is considered as smuggling. We want to seize these. We have already issued warrant of seizures. The problem is we have these injunctions. We are being challenged in court," Sevilla told the committee.

It was also revealed that the BOC issued a ruling that any rice without import permit after 30 days of arrival will be issued a warrant of seizure, which they cannot fully implement because of local court orders being issued against BOC in favor of the big time players.

David Tan is said to be the point man of rice smugglers who centralized smuggling transaction all over the country.

Max Hernandez and Elpidio Mendoza, both farmers from Albay, who were invited during the Senate hearing narrated their ordeal on how these big time players used them as a front for smuggling.

"Kami pa po ang nakasuhan. Hindi po kami makahingi ng tulong ngayon sa Department of Agriculture. Isang Eleonor Rodriguez po ang ginamit sa amin ng mga yan sa bidding tapos isang Lea Echeverria na ang sumunod na pumirma at tinakpan ang aming mga pangalan bilang mga lehitimong magsasaka. September 2, 2013 po ng dumating ang shipment sa Legazpi. Kami po ang nadiin at ito rin ang ikinamatay na aking asawa," Hernandez said.

Senator Villar in an interview revealed that there are discrepancies in Customs figures of what went into the country and what the foreigners are saying was actually shipped to the Philippines. She added that in 2012 the discrepancy is 800,000 tons.

"This year, parang one million metric tons so malaki iyon," she said.

Villar said the Senate is conducting its probe in order to craft a law that will put a stop to rampant smuggling that is damaging farmer's incomes and robs the government of revenues.

"The impact hurts the farmers and keeps them in perpetual poverty," she said.

In this connection, Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito wants to classify rice smuggling as an act of economic sabotage and a heinous crime through Senate Bill 2082 (Anti Rice Smuggling Act of 2014).

Ejercito said rice smuggling should be treated as an act of economic sabotage since rice is the country's staple food and two-thirds of our population is dependent on agriculture.

Ejercito's measure proposes stiffer raps to persons found guilty of engaging in outright and technical smuggling of a minimum aggregate amount of P1 million in the form of fines, confiscation of smuggles articles and imprisonment of a minimum of eight years up to life imprisonment. (Camille P. Balagtas/Sunnex)

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