CEBU CITY, Philippines—The National Food Authority (NFA) office in Central Visayas said the eight Cebuano rice traders identified as among those involved in anomalous importation of rice from 2008 to 2010 were real rice traders.
“They are actually bona fide NFA retailers,” said Lucy Rosales, the NFA information officer in Central Visayas.
Rosales was referring to Radegonda Vallejo, Chevy Bacaltos, Edisa Cabuenas, Jugy Obando, Jerome Tan, Othoniel Acquiatan, Marivic Ventura and Glenn Ernesto Pacana.
They were the eight rice traders mentioned in the Inquirer report on Tuesday about the participation of rice traders in the private sector-financed (PSF) rice importation program that resulted in huge losses for the NFA.
Rosales said the volume involved was 75,000 metric tons for rice intended for the entire Visayas, not only for Cebu.
An audit report on NFA imports, debts and losses said 18 traders, including eight from Cebu, were allowed to purchase a total of 200,000 MT through the agency last year.
Rosales said the eight importers participated in the bidding in the 2009-2010 importation of the PSF program after having complied with the requirements and submitting the needed documents.
She could not confirm the actual volume of rice that was imported at the time.
Trader for 20 years
In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Marivic Ventura said she had been a rice trader for 20 years.
Ventura said she was involved in the rice importation but maintained that it was a legal transaction. However, she refused to comment further.
The number of Vallejo listed in the telephone directory just kept on ringing and nobody answered the phone after several calls.
In Davao City, Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan said the Inquirer report that government lost billions of pesos from rice importation during the previous administration confirmed what her group had long ago suspected: That then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo tolerated artificial rice shortages.
“Now, the reports show there is basis (for our suspicion),” Ilagan said in a text message.
“She (Arroyo) favored and coddled certain importers who were allowed to amass profit at the expense of public interest,” she said.
“Remember the tons of rice rotting in the NFA bodegas because of Tropical Storm ‘Ondoy’? All that excess rice while the poor had been lining up to avail of rationed rice,” Ilagan said. “These are the forms of corruption that are unfolding now.”
Ilagan said the administration of President Benigno Aquino III should go against the perpetrators by pursuing a case against them and holding public officials responsible for the huge NFA losses.
“That’s why, the new Ombudsman can do a lot,” she said, adding that people should always be vigilant to ensure that this will not happen again.
Davao City Councilor Leah Librado said the huge losses would not have happened if the government did not depend so much on rice imports.
She said the government should have maximized the country’s vast agriculture resources and should have invested more in developing agriculture instead of spending so much on imports.
“Such an incident showed the worsening corruption within the government, while the majority of the people are suffering from hunger and poverty,” Librado said.
Romualdo Basilio, chair of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, said the Inquirer report proved what his group had been saying.
The report, he said, only showed that some people were making money at the expense of other people.
Bidding in nat’l office
Filemon Cangrejo, the NFA manager for Southern Mindanao, said the bidding and importation process was done at the national office.
“Importation of rice is a policy that is centralized. Even the bidding is open to all but with a nationwide character. There is no bidding on the regional level … everything is done up there,” Cangrejo told the Inquirer by phone.
He said Southern Mindanao became the destination of imported rice in 2008-2010 during which the supposed questionable importation by private firms took place.
“Davao at that time became one of the dropping points of the imported rice. As to how many tons, I cannot tell right now,” Cangrejo said. With reports from Germelina Lacorte and Jeffrey M. Tupas, Inquirer Mindanao