Bangayan, others no show at Senate rice smuggling probe

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Monday, February 24, 2014

FOUR alleged rice smugglers and brokers, including Davidson Bangayan aka David Tan, failed to attend a hearing of the Senate committee on agriculture and food on Monday.

Aside from Bangayan, other personalities expected at the hearing are Leah Echevaria, broker Elizabeth Faustino, and broker Eleonor Rodriguez, who assisted in the documentation of Albay rice shipment cooperatives.

During the hearing, the wife of businessman David Lim, Judyline Lim of DGL Commodoties Inc., earned the ire of the senators and was cited for contempt after she denied that her company used farmers' cooperatives for alleged illegal importation of rice.

Lim admitted that she employed a certain Leah Echeveria, who is currently being located by authorities for allegedly tapping cooperatives for illegal rice trade.

However, she said that she was not aware of Echeveria's suspected links to rice smuggling operations.

Senator Joseph Victor Ejercito questioned Lim's statement as he expressed doubts that Lim was not aware of the illegal operations and that Echeveria could not have acted on her own.

Ejercito reminded Lim that she was under oath and that the Senate has the full authority to castigate her and hold her in contempt if she will continue to deny her alleged knowledge and link to Echeveria.

Senator Cynthia Villar, committee chairman, said Echeveria has been missing since 2012.

Villar then moved to cite Lim for contempt, citing Lim's continued denial of her link to the rice smuggling and refused to answer the senators properly. It was immediately seconded by Ejercito.

She also asked the National Bureau of Investigation to locate Echeveria the soonest time as the senator confirmed that her office received information confirming that Echeveria even voted in the last elections.

Echeveria was the attorney-in-fact for 21 cooperatives that filed a civil case against the National Food Authority (NFA) before the Quezon City Regional Trial Court branch 217.

Records at the committee on agriculture and food showed that Echeveria filed Civil Case No. Q-12-71913, where Judge Arenas ordered a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, then NFA administrator Angelito Banayo and Assistant Administrator Cordero.

Senate records showed that the TRO prevented and restrained the NFA and DA officials from delaying or holding the release of import permits/memorandum of undertaking, imposing penalties, forfeiting the performance security bonds/deposits, canceling the authority to import under the Tax Expenditure Subsidy, among others.

The Lim couple is engaged in businesses ranging from rice trading, trucking and commodities.

Lim's husband attended one of the earlier Senate hearings, but he told the committee that it was his wife who handled their businesses.

Faustino, a broker, who also failed to attend the hearing was the "consolidator" of the late Nixon Kua, a former journalist who reportedly got involved in rice trading.

According to Senate sources, Faustino had links with farmers' cooperatives identified as Formosa Multi-Purpose Cooperative (MPC) (Ricardo Gatuz Jr.); Riverview Multi-Purpose Cooperative (Juanito Evangelista); Ugnayang Magsasaka sa Kaunlaran MPC (Felix Villena Sr.); GPI San Miguel MPC (Alfredo Cruz); Sitio Muzon Farmers MPC (Ronaldo Valdez) and Sta. Cecilia MPC (Zenaida Abanio).

Faustino, in her letter said that she will be undergoing an operation due to her gallbladder problem, prompting Senator Villar to order the Senate Sergeant-at-arms to validate her claims, which will be accompanied by some medical practitioner from the Senate.

Villar said her committee will exert all efforts to get into the bottom of rice smuggling, which she considered as an economic sabotage that is hurting the economy of the country.

Meanwhile, Bangayan thru his lawyer Benito Salazar said his client is now confined at Laoag General Hospital after his blood pressure shoot up at the same time suffered acute back pain.

It was also learned that while the committee asked for the cancellation of the passport of Bangayan, pending the filing of perjury charges before a competent court, the Department of Foreign Affairs denied their petition insisting that a case must first be filed against Bangayan.

Bangayan was cited for contempt in the previous hearing for repeatedly denying that he and rice smuggler David Tan are one and the same person. (Camille P. Balagtas)

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