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Imee seeks deeper probe into agricultural smuggling

Paolo Romero - The Philippine Star
Imee seeks deeper probe into agricultural smuggling
Sen. Imee Marcos speaks with members of the media at an event on the Senate premises on Wednesday, June 15, 2022.
The STAR / Geremy Pintolo

MANILA, Philippines — Sen. Imee Marcos called yesterday for a deeper investigation into agricultural smuggling and the prosecution of notorious smugglers within the first 100 days of the administration of her younger brother, President Marcos.

She said the actual filing of cases against smugglers will be the measure of the new administration’s seriousness in curbing the misdeclaration and undervaluation of agricultural imports.

The senator pointed this out as her brother, the Chief Executive, designated himself as secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA) to address the country’s looming food crisis.

“Illegal imports have pulled down local farmgate prices and discouraged farmers from pursuing their livelihood,” said the chair of the Senate economic affairs committee.

The senator, however, said cases of smuggling cannot be filed in court until the controversy over the list of suspected agricultural smugglers is settled.

“Some people should be on the list, while the inclusion of others is now being argued,” Marcos said of the exchange of words that has ensued between the Senate and officials of the DA, its Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR) and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA).

The Senate report on agricultural smuggling named 22 persons, including officials of the DA and its attached agencies, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and former Navotas City mayor Tobias Tiangco, who has been vocal against the illegal importation of fish.

“Among all local officials, Navotas Mayor Toby Tiangco has taken the toughest stand against smuggling by immediately filing grave charges against notorious syndicates. On the other hand, why have the highest officials in DA been let off the hook?” Marcos said.

“The economic sabotage of our farmers’ livelihood and the country’s recovery itself won’t stop if the guilty are exempted and the innocent indicted,” she said.

Marcos also said the incoming NICA chief, former police general Ricardo de Leon, must at once reconcile the intelligence agency’s actual list of suspected smugglers with what it had submitted to the Senate.

Tiangco’s defense

Yesterday, Tiangco said the credibility and integrity of the Senate have been placed under a cloud of doubt over the committee of the whole’s report that had falsely included him in the list of protectors of smugglers of agricultural products.

Several quarters, including two senators, have come out to defend Tiangco, saying he was “erroneously cited” in the report released by the Senate.

“With due respect, it appeared that our senators, specifically outgoing Senate President Vicente Sotto III, were shooting from the hip,” Tiangco said.

“The report cast aspersions on too many people, ranking government officials at that, without clear and indisputable proof of their alleged malfeasance.”

The former Navotas mayor, who was elected as congressman last May, urged the senators to revisit their records of the investigation into agricultural smuggling in light of the criticisms the document drew from various concerned parties.

For one, Sen. Nancy Binay dismissed the committee report as a “failure of intelligence,” adding that she could vouch for Tiangco’s integrity and reputation.

“It’s so impossible. No way could Mayor Toby be a protector (of agricultural smuggling),” said Binay, who was earlier reported to have been one of 17 senators who signed the report largely based on “supposed” and uncorroborated dossiers from the NICA.

Sen. Joel Villanueva also blamed a failure of intelligence for the questioned Senate report, saying the committee headed by Sotto should have been more circumspect in handling the NICA dossiers.

The NICA has also come out to deny being the source of the information contained in the report released by Sotto’s committee.

NFA employees vs administrator

Meanwhile, employees of the National Food Authority (NFA) want their administrator, Judy Carol Dansal, removed from her post.

At a briefing yesterday, the NFA Employees Association (NFAEA) asked the President and the 19th Congress to investigate and take the appropriate steps against Dansal as she refuses to vacate her post when her co-terminous appointment by the Duterte administration expired at noon of June 30.

They said this goes against the May 25 memorandum of former agriculture secretary William Dar, directing all officials under the agency to turn over documents and records to the next highest career official to ensure continuous and effective delivery of services.

The NFA workers, led by NFAEA national president Maximo Torda, said Dansal’s counterparts in the other offices and agencies under the DA had tendered their courtesy resignations early on.

“However, Dansal refused to comply with the memorandum and even wrote the Deputy Administrator insisting on her continued stay as administrator on the pretext of holdover capacity, thereby committing usurpation of authority,” the group alleged.

On June 29, the Office Deputy Administrator (ODA) requested the Office of the Administrator to turn over documents and records in compliance with the DA memorandum.?

In a separate virtual briefing, Dansal said the DA memo did not contain such instruction and that “non-career officials in bureaus, attached agencies and corporations appointed by the President, whose appointments are not co-terminus, should continue to perform their tasks unless relieved by the new President.”

She said the holdover capacity is contained in various laws, such as Presidential Decree No. 4, the Governance Commission for GOCCs (GCG) Memorandum Circular No.2012-09 and Republic Act 10149 (GOCC Governance Act of 2011). – Jose Rodel Clapano, Danessa Rivera

IMEE MARCOS

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