Lacson also files complaint vs NFA's Jason Aquino over rice smuggling

MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson on Thursday, September 28, filed a graft and economic sabotage complaint against National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Jason Aquino over smuggled rice worth $680,000 or around P34.68 million.

The complaint against Aquino is the same complaint Lacson filed against former Bureau of Customs (BOC) commissioner Nicanor Faeldon before the Office of the Ombudsman on Thursday.

Lacson also filed an administrative complaint of grave misconduct against Aquino.

Siya yung belatedly nag-issue ng fraudulent na import permit nung kailangan, kasi nung dumating 'yung bigas, contrary sa provision sa batas, walang import permit, kaya smuggled. Saka lahat ng remedies, mga extension, at na-exhaust na yun, lumampas, and yet nag-issue pa siya para maremedyuhan siya,” Lacson said referring to Aquino.

(He’s the one who belatedly issued a fraudulent import permit when it was needed. Because when the rice shipment arrived, contrary to law, it didn’t have an import permit, that’s why it was smuggled. All the remedies, extensions, they were exhausted and they lapsed, and yet he still issued to remedy the situation.)

Aquino pushed for the government-to-government (G2G) importation of rice to address a possible rice shortage. His policy, however, was opposed by the NFA council headed by Cabinet Secretary Leoncio “Jun” Evasco.

President Rodrigo Duterte eventually sided with Evasco and ordered a government to private transaction (G2P) where rice would be bought from local farmers. The clash between Aquino and Evasco led to the downsizing of Aquino’s role as NFA administrator.

Smuggled rice

According to Lacson’s complaint, two rice shipments consigned to Cebu Lite Trading, Incorporated (CLTI) entered the port of Cagayan de Oro (CDO) on March 10, 2017; the first consisted of 21,800 bags of Vietnamese long grain white rice worth $370,000 and the second 18,200 bags of the same Vietnamese rice worth $309,000.

“Like the previous rice importation of CLTI, the same shipment was made without any import permit,” Lacson complaint said.

Lacson also alleged that both shipments did not sign import entries; taxes and customs duties were also not paid, the senator said.

The Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service (CIIS), on April 24, then requested for the shipments to be abandoned. It means they will be seized and forfeited in favor of the government.

“On May 17, 2017 or 25 days after the date of issuance of orders of abandonment, Administar Aquino, for unknown reasons, suddenly issued a Certification dated May 17, 2017 and a Confirmation for these abandoned rice shipments of CLTI,” Lacson said.

Contained in the certification were import permits for both shipments dated March 28, 2017 and valid until April 4, 2017.

“Surprisingly, both the Certification and the Confirmation expressly specified that the validity of these import permits would retroact to cover the actual date of arrival of the said rice shipments in the final port of destination,” Lacson said.

The Office of the Collector would then receive a release order from Faeldon’s office. Officials there raised the issues with Faeldon but the former commissioner allegedly ignored them.

“Despite being fully aware of the above concerns, Commissioner Faeldon still issued a 1st Indorsement dated June 13, 2017 and unlawfully allowed the release of CLTI’s two rice shipments,” Lacson said.

Because of these, the government lost the P34 million it could have earned. For that, Lacson filed economic sabotage complaints against Faeldon, Aquino, and 8 others. A graft complaint was filed for violating section 3(e) of the law which penalizes officials who “cause undue injury to any party including the government.”

WATCH: Lacson said NFA's Jason Aquino issued a fraudulent import permit for the smuggled rice — Lian Buan (@lianbuan) September 28, 2017

Who is Jason Aquino?

Aquino was a former official of the Bureau of Customs, but he did not have a good track record. In March 2016, the BOC Intelligence Group publicized notices of warning against transactions with a number of former BOC officials including a Jason Aquino.

Rappler sources confirmed it is the same Aquino. Former Customs deputy commissioner Jessie Dellosa said Aquino and other blacklisted persons were found to be colluding with smugglers.

Aquino is a graduate of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA). He was involved in plots to overthrow the government of then president Gloria Arroyo, and was jailed for it in 2006 but was cleared by a military court. He retired from service in 2013.

Aquino was appointed NFA administrator only in December 2016, or 6 months into Duterte’s administration.

In March, or around the same time that the said rice smuggling occurred, Evasco – a very close friend of Duterte – threatened to remove Aquino for defying his orders on extending rice importation through the minimum access volume (MAV) scheme(READ: Did Evasco compel Jason Aquino to toe the line?)

Rappler’s military sources say Aquino is backed by Special Assistant to the President Bong Go. The NFA clash between Aquino and Evasco reportedly caused a rift too between Evasco and Go.

Aquino is supposedly also a good friend of Duterte’s eldest son, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte.

Asked about the political clashes related to Aquino, NFA and rice, Lacson said: Hindi ko alam ‘yun, basta dito, we relied on the documents, we relied on the testimonies na galing sa Bureau of Customs (I don't know that, what I know is that here, we relied on the documents, we relied on testimonies from the Bureau of Customs).” 

Lacson wants life imprisonment imposed on Aquino, Faeldon and others in his complaint. –

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email or tweet @lianbuan.