Senators to SBMA: No excuse for rice smuggling
Senators believe SBMA officials colluded with an Indian rice exporter and a local consignee to smuggle rice

'MAKING EXCUSES.' Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said SMBA officials were making excuses when they tried to explain a smuggling attempt by saying Subic is a freeport zone. Photo by Joseph Vidal/Senate PRIB

MANILA, Philippines – Palusot! (Excuses)

Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile revived the word made famous during the Corona impeachment trial as he and his colleagues took the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) to task for supposedly taking part in an attempt to smuggle rice from India.

In a hearing of the Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday, August 1, senators probed the shipment of 420,000 bags of rice in the Subic Bay Freeport in April even without an import permit from the National Food Authority (NFA).

Senators said they believe the SBMA colluded with Indian rice exporter Amira Foods International and local consignee Metro Eastern Trading to allow the shipment of rice.

Senator Ralph Recto said, “Maraming mali sa sistema pero ang mas malaking mali, ‘yung sabwatan ng mga tao.” (There are many mistakes in the system but the biggest is the collusion between people.)

Recto said that documents from the Bureau of Customs (BOC) show that the Indian rice exporter contacted SBMA in search for a local consignee to handle the shipment.

Cesar Bulaon of Metro Eastern Trading told senators he met with Stefani Saño, SBMA senior deputy administrator for business and investment. Bulaon said that in the meeting, Saño asked his company to provide a warehouse for the rice from Amira Foods.  

Bulaon added that Saño inquired if the consignee can sell the rice locally.

NFA Administrator Angelito Banayo, however, said that his agency was unable to issue permits for new rice imports then because it already closed bidding in March. The NFA is limiting imports as the Philippines aims to be self-sufficient in rice by 2013.

The BOC seized the rice shipment on Tuesday, July 31, from two warehouses in Subic because of incomplete papers.

‘You don’t deserve to run freeport’

In the hearing, Bulaon admitted that he also met with a certain Vicente “Bong” Cuevas, who supposedly promised to secure an NFA permit in 6 to 7 days.

Enrile said Cuevas was an influential man during the Arroyo administration.

SBMA officials, however, denied knowing about Cuevas and the meeting between Saño and Bulaon.

SBMA Chairman Roberto Garcia said, “To my knowledge, we do not [meet with consignees and exporters].”

Other SBMA officials present in the hearing said they only allowed the unloading of the rice shipment because Metro Eastern Trading told them the import permit was already being processed.

At that point, Legarda asked the SBMA officials why they accepted the explanation from the consignee.

“That reason that they are working on the permit is wrong. Why did you just accept that,” said Legarda.  

SBMA Senior Deputy Administrator for Operations Redentor Tuazon replied. “Subic Bay is also a freeport zone.”

This angered Enrile. “You don’t know how to operate a freeport. Palusot ‘yan. (That’s an excuse.) You don’t deserve to administer a freeport if that is your attitude.”

It was Enrile who called on the Senate to probe the rice smuggling. The Senate President noted that the shipment’s bill of lading identified Subic as the port of entry when the ship had already passed by Singapore and Indonesia. 

The Senate probe will continue next week. In the meantime, senators said the rice should just be given to the poor and typhoon victims. –