Senate wants Banayo charged over rice smuggling
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - February 13, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The Senate has established that a big-time rice cartel was operating in the country, at least in 2012, which used farmers’ cooperatives as willing dummies to bankroll rice smuggling operations.

In a 43-page committee report submitted to the plenary, the Senate recommended the filing of charges for violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act against former National Food Authority (NFA) head Lito Banayo and his former chief of staff lawyer Gilbert Lauengco, a member of the NFA’s special bids and awards committee.

Senators Ralph Recto (ways and means committee chairman), Francis Pangilinan (chairman, committee on agriculture and food), Teofisto Guingona III (chairman, committee on accountability and public officers), Manny Villar (chairman, committee on trade and commerce), and Franklin Drilon (vice-chairman of the ways and means) prepared the extensive report.  

It was signed and routed among senators before Congress went on extended break last Feb. 6 for the election campaign.

Appropriate charges were also recommended against assistant administrator Jose Cordero of the grains marketing and operations department and chairman of the bids and awards committee; Serafin Manalili, provincial manager, NFA Bulacan provincial office; Yolanda Navarro, NFA Albay; and members of the special bids and awards committee Celia Tan (vice-chairman), Judy Carol Dansal (member) and Carlito Go (member).

Charges for violation of the code of conduct and ethical standards under Republic Act 3019 were also recommended against Stefani Sano, Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) senior deputy administrator of the Business and Investment Group.

Sano had used the name of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile to release the documents in favor of an Indian rice importer.  

Enrile has since castigated the NFA and SBMA officials for dragging his name into the controvery.

The Senate also urged the Department of Justice (DOJ) to follow up the perjury cases filed against John Dexter Marfil, president and chief executive officer of the Masagana Import and Export Inc, for false testimony before the committee.

No charges were recommended against Protik Guha, chief executive officer of the Indian Amira Foods, which imported.

“The testimony and documents submitted by the Bureau of Customs (BOC), NFA and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) before the committees strongly reveal that there is a rice cartel, which involves certain government officials who allow transactions to be consummated regardless of the irreparable injury it would cause to the government,” the report read.

Customs Commissioner Rozzano Rufino Biazon exposed the attempted smuggling after receiving a text message about reported rice smuggling at the Subic Freeport. It was later revealed during Senate hearings that President Aquino was the one who texted Biazon.

The Senate recommended that the Ombudsman and the BOC examine the documents and evidence gathered during the Senate investigation and conduct further investigation against Banayo and other officials of the SBMA for possible violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act.

The Senate has conducted 11 public hearings and an executive session on the controversy. 

Financiers remain at large

The committees also found that a certain Danny Ngo and David Tan were behind the alleged rice cartel. “There is sufficient basis to conclude that the financiers are behind the anomalous transactions, and testimony and documents obtained in the hearings establish without a doubt that these financiers exist and have employed dummies to rig the bidding process,” the report read.

However, the Senate is not certain as to the identity of the financiers. 

In his testimony, Magdangal Bayani Maralit III mentioned a certain Danilo Garcia as his financier.

The dummy traders also point to a certain Willy Sy, according to the report.  According to testimonies of the representatives of the farmers’ cooperative and traders who acted as dummies to the financiers, more or less P1 billion was made readily available to effect the rigging of the bidding process.

The Senate has tasked the Ombudsman, DOJ and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to further investigate and file charges against Garcia, Sy, Ngo and Tan for graft, violation of sections 101 and 3601 of the Tariffs and Customs Code of the Philippines, and Republic Act 1956, also known as an act amending Article 186 of the Revised Penal Code on monopolies and combinations in restraint of trade against the suspected financiers and operators of the rice cartels. 


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