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NFA fiasco emboldened rice smugglers, cartel

Newly surfaced trader Davidson T. Bangayan is the same wanted “Goliath rice smuggler David B. Tan.” So said Justice Sec. Leila de Lima after the alleged P6-billion Customs briber visited her office Tuesday. Yet her NBI had not held “fugitive” Bangayan for questioning, but let him leave for a publicity roadshow. What gives?

In an ensuing TV interview Bangayan suspiciously was evasive. He disowned any link to grains imports. Yet his lawyer strived to justify a recently confiscated rice shipment ­— by a company in whose records Bangayan’s name does not even appear. Again, what gives?

Amid the muddle, talk swirled in the NBI and Customs that Bangayan’s implication is diversionary. Supposedly a rice cartel is setting him up for the kill, in prelude to expanding regional turf from Southern Tagalog-Bicol to Central Luzon-Cagayan. The plot thickens.

Where is the National Food Authority (NFA) in all this? Food security, the agency’s duty, allows no room for smuggler or cartel. But its fudging of figures and policies, in collusion with the Dept. of Agriculture (DA), has emboldened the criminals. The NFA failed to boost farm-gate prices for planters, and slash retail rates for consumers. Buffer stocking should have balanced the seesaw, but its mind was elsewhere. In 2013’s midyear harvest it bought farmers’ palay at a measly P11-P12 a kilo, as its subsidized rice soared P8 to P28 a kilo, rising further since to P33.

The DA-NFA had everyone fooled. Even President Noynoy Aquino misreported in his State of the Nation last July the government’s import of only 187,000 tons in rice buffer stock. Unstated were 18,700 tons more to arrive. The 205,700-ton total was almost double the previous year’s import of 120,000 tons. And yet, Agriculture Sec. Proceso Alcala, also NFA chairman, had been forecasting since 2010 rice self-sufficiency from 2013 onwards. It just doesn’t compute.

To recall, Alcala and NFA administrator Orlan Calayan last July had blamed the retail price surge on “the usual rice cartel.” They have not exposed or prosecuted anyone to date. The duo also branded all private rice imports as smuggled. Only the NFA supposedly was authorized to buy abroad. This was despite the expiration since June 2012 of the World Trade Organization’s second extension for the Philippine government to monopolize grains trading. The NFA thereafter announced to import 300,000 to 500,000 tons more as buffer. Never mind that the government would collect 50-percent duties by letting private importers do it.

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It turned out from a consequent lawsuit that the NFA had bought the 205,700 tons from Vietnam in April 2013 at an overprice. Lawyer Argee Guevara decried the contract price of $459.75 a ton, when the going rate then was $360-365. The difference, he said, was P2,150 per ton, for a total killing of P457 million.

The NFA claimed no hanky-panky in the government-to-government transaction. Plus, there supposedly were freight and handling fees. Yet Guevara still saw, after deducting such added costs, an overprice of P300 million. Needless to say, “facilitator had handled the G2G, as they always did during the hated Arroyo regime.

If only the rice smugglers, cartelists, and DA-NFA officials can be shipped to Davao City. There the mayor, among thousands of others, is the only one itching to use his “executive ability” to exterminate rice manipulators.

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Reader Alfredo Sumague reacts to my piece last Monday on lawmakers’ reinsertion of forbidden pork barrels in the 2014 national budget: “They think it will take a hundred years, as one senator said, to convict them. But in this age of Google, Amazon, and the Big Data, it takes only seconds to access hundreds of thousand of pages of evidence.”

Rep. Reynaldo Umali (Oriental Mindoro, 2nd dist.) disputes the line in that article about aiming to impeach three Supreme Court justices who led the unanimous 14-0 ruling to eliminate the congressional “pork”: “It was never my intention to impeach the justices because of that ruling. I have clarified in many interviews that I support the President, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate President in their abolition of the PDAF. In my privilege speech of Dec. 3, 2013, entitled “Clear and Present Danger of Judicial Despotism,” my issue with the Supreme Court and some magistrates is their unwarranted flip-flopping in the case of Cong. Regina Ongsiako-Reyes. I only made reference to the PDAF issue wherein the High Court also flip-flopped, as in many other cases covered by Article III of the impeachment case versus ex-Chief Justice Corona.”

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J.D. Blas of Westbury, NY, on my item Wednesday about traitors abounding as China reportedly plans to seize Pag-asa Island: “Our government is in bind on how to respond to this impending invasion. Our institutions are unreliable to resolve the weaknesses you mentioned. I’m reminded of the farmer closing the barn door after the horses fled.”

Toti: “Good you mentioned the ROTC’s abolition. When I was a student training under the sun, in uniform with a wooden rifle, I felt a sense of duty to defend this country at some point in time. Today there is a big disconnect in our youth ... puro gimik at pormahan na lang. Yes, bring back the ROTC. At the very least, we would signal that we are preparing to defend our land.”

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ (882-AM).

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