A 33-year-old high school dropout surfaced Tuesday to deny he is David Tan, but Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said he definitely looked like the wily kingpin behind a multibillion-peso rice smuggling syndicate that had eluded investigators for over a year.
Davidson Bangayan, accompanied by his lawyer, Benito Salazar, presented himself at the Department of Justice and later at the National Bureau of Investigation. He was briefly detained for further questioning—not on rice smuggling but for allegedly pilfering electricity.
Bangayan, who was subsequently released, told the Inquirer that he had nothing to do with smuggling rice, but admitted he “dabbles in selling rice.”
“No need to smuggle rice because importation has been liberalized,” he said in a brief interview at the NBI headquarters. He said he voluntarily showed up after he saw photographs of David Tan in TV news reports on Monday that looked like him.
“By his looks, he’s really the one in the photo submitted to me by the NBI. Their initial finding is that Davidson Bangayan and David Tan are one and the same person. The one in the photo is really him and he said he also saw his photo on TV that’s why he decided to surface,” De Lima said.
Witnesses identify Bangayan
Abono Chair Rosendo So earlier provided the Senate committee on agriculture chaired by Sen. Cynthia Villar with information that Tan and Bangayan are one and the same person. The Senate committee a year ago had ordered a manhunt for Tan but had come up with a blank wall.
Customs authorities said that Tan was behind smuggling activities that had cost the government P7 billion annually in lost revenues.
NBI Deputy Director Virgilio Mendez told the Inquirer that several witnesses had identified Bangayan as the alleged rice smuggling kingpin. Some of the witnesses are members of a rice cooperative, he said.
Mendez declined to give details of his evidence, but said among the documents NBI has was a bail bond document of Tan with mug shots that clearly showed Bangayan.
De Lima said she was surprised by Bangayan’s appearance. “He said he’s engaged in scrap metal and fertilizer sale, and he admits that he also has a little rice business. He said it’s not that big and therefore he can’t be the big-time smuggler [David Tan] and he says he’s willing to cooperate,” she said.
The justice secretary said Bangayan told her he would speak to Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to “find out what he knows about this David Tan and whether he knows something about Tan being Davidson Bangayan.”
De Lima later said Bangayan wasn’t the subject of an arrest warrant for a criminal case pending in Caloocan City for violation of Republic Act No. 7832, or the Anti-Electricity and Electric Transmission Lines/Materials Pilferage Act of 1994.
Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala on Tuesday said it was a “blessing that what we have been saying all along about a ‘David Tan’ controlling rice smuggling in the country is true.”
Rosendo So, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura president and Abono party-list group founder, said: “We look forward to seeing Davidson ‘David Tan’ Bangayan next week, Jan. 22. The Senate has invited David Tan through the DOJ,” said So.
“Rice traders, cooperatives and rice millers know him, he is the one selling smuggled rice. Let’s just wait when they face him in the hearing,” So said.
In a phone interview, Alcala said that Salazar had been doing the media rounds to vilify the Department of Agriculture and National Food Authority and force it to liberalize the importation of rice.
Salazar has argued that his clients were not only willing to pay the 50-percent duty on its rice imports but that the World Trade Organization (WTO), which governed global trading rules between nations including the Philippines, has already lifted quantitative restrictions on imports.
But Alcala stressed that he was just upholding the rule of law as the 18-year-old Agricultural Tarification Act (Republic Act No. 8178), which imposed import restrictions on farm products, had not yet been voided by Congress.
“They have to respect the law. These import restrictions are meant to protect our farmers. Are we for our farmers or foreign farmers? We have to protect our rice farmers because it is our goal to have self-sufficiency in the most consumed staple of Filipinos,” Alcala said.—With reports from Gil C. Cabacungan and Jerry E. Esplanada
Originally posted: 10:41 pm | Tuesday, January 14th, 2014