MANILA, Philippines – If this guy unloads smuggled goods in Davao, I will gladly kill him!
The notorious mayor of Davao City Rodrigo Duterte faced the Senate agriculture committee to confirm that businessman Davidson Bangayan is big-time rice smuggler David Tan.
Before senators and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, Duterte had no qualms about threatening to kill Bangayan if he catches him smuggling rice in his city.
Asked by Senator Jinggoy Estrada if he was ready to face the consequences of taking the law in his hands, Duterte said, “I’m old. I’m sickly. I could spend the remaining days of my life in prison. I can read books and while away my time.”
Duterte testified that he asked Davao’s intelligence community to “give me a face” of the infamous rice smuggler David Tan.
Raising a photo, Duterte looked at Bangayan who was also present in the hearing.
“He is the one in the picture. It’s not even [just] similar. I think he’s the one,” Duterte said. “There is no doubt in this room he is really the one.”
Responding to Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, Duterte even pointed to Bangayan, “Siya.” (He’s the one.)
Duterte said he talked to rice traders in Davao and to different agencies – including the Bureau of Customs, Philippine Ports Authority, National Bureau of Investigation, Philippine National Police – and one name kept cropping up.
“The only name that cropped up incessantly with so many persons I talked to, David Bangayan was the only name coming out …. His face is all over town. Everybody knows him. He is the central figure in rice smuggling in the country. Whoever wants to import [rice] goes to him,” the mayor said.
Duterte said Bangayan has no business permit to operate in Davao City but is known to go there once a year for his scrap metal, fertilizer and rice business. He said Bangayan is “not a Davaoeño.”
The mayor said he began looking into rice smuggling upon the request of Bureau of Internal Revenue Commissioner Kim Henares. He said he does not want his actions to be misconstrued because national agencies like the Bureau of Customs are supposed to be on top of the issue.
Duterte appeared at the hearing upon the invitation of the committee to shed light on smuggling in his city. The committee is looking into businessmen’s practice of using farmers’ cooperatives as fronts to import rice under the agriculture department’s Minimum Access Volume (MAV) program.
Senators said this scheme was illegal, and negated the purpose of the program to help farmers. (READ: Alleged rice smuggler admits using dummies)
Customs Commissioner John Philip Sevilla highlighted the gravity of the problem, saying the Philippines lost about P8.4 billion to rice smuggling in 2012. Poor farmers are the hardest hit. Once a top rice-exporting country, the Philippines is one of the major rice importers. Rice is the country’s primary staple.
Dig at De Lima
In his opening statement, Duterte took a swipe at De Lima, who he has been trading criticism with over the supposed slow action of the Department of Justice in filing cases against smugglers.
The mayor said: “The trouble with us in government is that we talk too much, act too slow, and do too little, don’t we? What the country needs is not more laws but more good men in public service. Do we subscribe to that?”
When Estrada asked him who he was referring to, Duterte said, “All agencies, the Customs, the NFA, the DOJ.”
Duterte said investigators could do more to curb smuggling. He said Tan is famous for having “a line” to ports in Davao, Manila, Cebu, and Cagayan de Oro so farmers’ cooperatives run to him.
“If I were an investigator, I would not mind if he (Bangayan) is the same person. I’ll focus on him …. We focus on David Tan. He may use 1,000 names, George Washington, Duterte, whatever. We focus on David Tan,” Duterte said.
The mayor though echoed De Lima’s earlier Senate testimony that Bangayan resorts to various modus operandi as a rice smuggler like outright smuggling, using “recycled” permits and undervaluing goods.
Duterte suggested that the government do away with the scheme allowing farmers’ cooperatives to import rice, saying big businessmen end up exploiting them.
“What’s sad is the policy that cooperatives get permits. Alam naman natin wala silang pera, they go to him (Bangayan).” (We already know the cooperatives have no money so they go to him.)
Limit importation to NFA
Duterte suggested that the government revert to the practice of limiting rice importation to the National Food Authority (NFA).
“Give the power back to the NFA. Bibilhin [ng mga businessmen ang permit ng coops] kasi pera-pera dito eh. Ipagbibili iyan. Ang kawawang farmer na Pilipino, luluhod sa kanya (Bangayan) kasi siya ang financier. How can you import, at the mercy of these guys?”
(Businessmen buy the permits from the coops because it’s all about money. They sell the permits. The poor Filipino farmer will kneel before Bangayan because he’s the financier.)
Sevilla supported the suggestion. “Malaki ang idadali ng trabaho namin kung NFA lang ang pwedeng magimport ng bigas.” (Our job will be much easier if only the NFA is allowed to import rice.)
Senator Ralph Recto said he filed a bill proposing that rice importation be limited to the NFA but acknowledged that there are also difficulties with this set-up because the NFA lacks resources and has problems of its own.
NFA Administrator Orlan Calayag said there are proposals that rice importation be put under an inter-agency committee, instead of being limited to the NFA’s jurisdiction.
Recto asked Duterte if smuggling happens without the participation of the Bureau of Customs and NFA. Duterte said, “Very hard, impossible.”
During the hearing, senators repeatedly gave Duterte praises and cited his reputation as a no-nonsense law enforcer. Senator Jinggoy Estrada even called him his “idol.”
Twice during the hearing, agriculture committee chairperson Cynthia Villar even referred to him as “senator.” No one though made mention of his controversial human rights record in Davao City.
Duterte let the flattery slide and focused on explaining why smuggling persists.
“Because it’s allowed! There’s negligence and money. Maraming taong gustong yumaman. It’s a lucrative practice. People earn billions.” (Many people want to get rich.) – Rappler.com