By Jelly F. Musico
Senator Teofisto Guingona III urged on Wednesday the National Food Authority (NFA) to diligently check the qualification of its rice bidders and put an end on the seeming monopoly by a few unscrupulous entities in the rice importation process.
Guingona made this appeal during the resumption of the Senate inquiry into the rice smuggling where he used Powerpoint presentation showing questionable financial conditions of some of the entities that were given licenses to import rice from the NFA.
”We should not allow few people or groups to control the importation of rice. Rice is the staple food and it’s only proper that we should watch out of this people trying to fool around our authority in the importation of rice,” Guingona said.
Guingona said the NFA officials may have been blindsided by these unscrupulous individuals who want to gain control in country’s rice importation program by using the name of cooperatives or submitting false documentations.
In his presentation, Guingona said that it appears that some winning bidders are operating together and could be mere “dummies” of unscrupulous individuals or groups that want to control or monopolize the importation of rice in the country.
He highlighted the financial conditions of those bidders who won importation license from NFA are incapable of paying the service fees ranging from P50 to P69 million pesos.
“Imagine a bidder with only about P50,000 published capital can pay service fee amounting to P50 to P69 million pesos. And we are not talking of just one bidder here but numerous. This is quite anomalous. How can a bidder pay such huge amount of money when his total asset is only less than P1 million,’ Guingona said.
He added that many of these winning bidders got their National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) certificates and Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) registration on the same dates despite the invitation to bid is two months away.
”Two things stunned me. First, most of the winning bidders have the same legal representative even if they are from different places in the country. Second, majority of the winning bidders have the same supplier that issued certifications to supply them with 10,000 metric tons of rice just a day after the invitation to bid was published. Just by looking at these facts, we can see that unscrupulous entities are really manipulating here,” he said.
Guingona, chairman of the Senate blue ribbon committee, said that while he wanted to help NFA in verifying the credentials of the winning bidders, it appears that the agency has lapses in checking the status and qualifications of its bidders.
There were several winning bidders in the NFA rice importation program that indicated false qualifications in their registration. Some of them even indicated addresses belonging to a different business institution or the place is a private household.
The documents which Guingona’s office got from the NFA revealed also that at least 10 entities have the same supplier which is Vietnam Southern Food Corporation, the same supplier of 94 containers of illegal rice shipment apprehended in Legaspi last September 7.
”If my staff were able to uncover this seeming unscrupulous entities, why you cannot do it in the NFA? Do your job to correct this practice,” Guingona told the NFA officials headed by Atty. Gilbert Lauengco.
For his part, Senate committee on agriculture chairman Senator Francis Pangilinan vowed to uncover the people or groups behind what he described as ‘seeming syndicated’ practice to manipulate the importation of rice.
”The mere fact that the addresses and documents are bogus, it seems there is an organized syndicate out to corner this trading of imported rice. We should not stop unmasking who is behind this,” Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan described Guingona’s expose as just a “tip of the iceberg”’ since the NFA has 105 accredited cooperatives involved in the importation of rice.
Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile also suspects that there is a rice cartel, vowing to look deeper and uncover the real culprits behind the smuggling of rice.
”You can go to the court, but we will compel you to tell the truth,” Enrile told the resource persons from those involved in the alleged attempt to smuggled 420,000 sacks of Indian rice which are now warehoused at the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SMBA) Freeport Zone.
Bureau of Customs (BOC) Rufino Biazon said he will continue to cooperate with the Senate in stamping out smuggling in the country.