Biggest rice smuggler pinpointed

Biggest rice smuggler pinpointed
Biggest rice smuggler pinpointed

MANILA, Philippines—The head of a newly formed farmers and fishers group, former Abono party-list Rep. Rosendo So, urged government to look into reports that a certain “David Tan” was the head of the country’s biggest rice smuggling syndicate.

At least two Bureau of Customs officials, one former and one current, have estimated revenue losses from rice smuggling up to P6 billion a year. Many questionable rice shipments, they alleged, were arranged by “David Tan” in cahoots with corrupt customs officials.

So, president of the Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag), said the government should investigate “this David Tan who is wreaking havoc on our agricultural industry. We want to know who is David Tan and why the authorities have allowed him to allegedly manipulate rice imports for his own and his group’s profit?”

Sinag was launched Wednesday at Club Filipino.

So said even if David Tan was only an alias, he reportedly still managed to get an import permit from the National Food Authority (NFA) during the term of its former chief, Lito Banayo. “His (Tan’s) import permit apparently became a license to bring in any amount of rice. That is why we are happy that Secretary Proceso Alcala decided not to issue any more rice imports three months ago,” said So.

So said he received reports that “Tan went to the extent of paying individuals to buy up NFA rice to create the illusion of a rice shortage and force the hand of Alcala to authorize more rice imports.”

So also claimed an independent probe by the DA also yielded the same findings as the one made by his group—that some financiers could afford to spend millions to ramp up the price of rice because of massive profits in the illicit rice trade.

A former BOC official and a recently appointed BOC official, both of whom refused to be named for fear of reprisals, claimed that all dealings on unauthorized rice imports with unscrupulous customs officials were centralized through Tan to minimize suspicions in the agency. The BOC official claimed that Tan was said to have paid off key officials of the BOC in exchange for looking the other way when the smuggled rice were brought in through ports in Manila, Cebu and Davao, and sometimes at the Subic freeport.

A twenty-foot container can hold at least 500 sacks of rice and supposed to be charged at least P240,000 in duties. So claimed that Tan’s smuggled rice was reportedly levied only P120,000, or half the official rate.

The resigned BOC official alleged that between P2 billion and P4 billion of these foregone revenues go to the pockets of unscrupulous BOC officials.

With Tan’s group reportedly bringing in an average of 1,000 containers per week, the government loses an estimated P5.76 billion in revenues a year, said So, adding that farmers then suffer from lower profits due to the supply glut.

The BOC source said this could be the same “David Tan” tagged in a Senate committee report released last February as one of two financial backers of the rice cartel operating during the term of Banayo.

The committee report said: “There is sufficient basis to conclude that the financiers are behind the anomalous transactions, and testimony and documents obtained in the hearings establish without doubt that these financiers exist and have employed dummies to rig the bidding process.”  The committee, however, failed to ascertain Tan’s real identity but recommended the filing of graft charges against Banayo and other NFA officials linked to rice smuggling.

Banayo resigned in September last year to run for a House seat in Agusan del Sur.

So said players in the local agriculture sector decided to band together and form Sinag to show their collective anger not only at the rampant smuggling of rice, pork, poultry, fish and other farm products but also at the indifference of the Department of Finance. So accused the DOF of favoring big foreign business groups with fat perks.

Meanwhile, lawmakers used the misery of the farming sector as pretext to pilfer taxpayers’ money from Priority Development Assistance Fund and the Disbursement Acceleration Program, he added. Inquirer News


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