Plunder rap filed over rice import
MANILA, Philippines—Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Orlan Calayag are facing a plunder complaint in the Office of the Ombudsman in connection with the importation last May of 205,700 metric tons of rice from Vietnam, which was allegedly overpriced by P457.2 million.
In his complaint-affidavit filed on Monday, lawyer and public interest advocate Argee Guevarra described the importation deal between the governments of the Philippines (represented by Alcala and Calayag) and Vietnam as a “cash cow” because of “overpricing, unauthorized addition of 18,700 metric tons of rice, and the government monopolization of rice retail.”
The rice importation in May, according to Guevarra, was valued at $50.75/metric ton, or $10.439 million for the entire 205,700 MT of rice. (Guevarra used P43 per dollar as conversion rate; the rate on May 15 this year was P41.16 to the dollar—Ed.)
Guevarra also accused the NFA of a new wave of rice importations from Vietnam beginning this month, and said the agency had imported 500,000 MT of rice to beef up the Philippines’ rice supply following the onslaught of Supertyphoon “Yolanda.”
The lawyer said the respondents had ignored the expiration by June 30, 2012, of the quantitative restrictions (QRs) imposed on private rice importations when they proceeded with the deal.
“The diabolical plan is to preserve the government monopoly over rice importations to earn large kickbacks for themselves,” Guevarra said.
He said the country was a signatory to the Marrakech Agreement establishing the World Trade Organization and was committed to remove QRs on rice imports, among other provisions.
However, the country was allowed an accommodation in 1994 to regulate the volume of rice importation via trade quota to protect the price of domestically produced goods. In 2005, this was extended to June 30, 2012.
No legal impediment
“With the expiration of the QRs on June 30, 2012, there should no longer be any legal impediment for the private sector to import rice,” Guevarra said.
“However, the Department of Agriculture’s anomalous policy ensured respondents’ exercise of untrammeled discretion over the purchase and entry of imported rice, which they in turn used to enrich themselves with billions of pesos in illegal profits,” the complaint said.
Guevarra said that based on the prevailing market price of low-grade Vietnam rice, the overprice of the December rice imports could be as high as P1.9 billion.
He added that although the NFA had said that it was importing high-quality rice, Alcala through Calayag had allegedly sold NFA rice of the lowest quality.
“I recently did the rounds of the market to check the current quality of NFA rice, and all I can say is that it’s barely edible. It’s practically kanin baboy (pig swill). Is this what Alcala plans to feed to the Filipino masses, aside from lies and excuses?” Guevarra said.
The complainant described the agriculture official as the “biggest scammer” in the Aquino Cabinet for using Yolanda as an excuse to import overpriced rice instead of rehabilitating farmlands to restore the agricultural livelihood of farmers in the affected Visayan region.
Guevarra said all the elements of plunder were present in the complaint: The respondents are both public officials; the P457.2 million allegedly representing the overprice of imported Vietnam rice is beyond the P50 million threshold for plunder; the offense was allegedly committed through a combination or series of overt criminal acts by misappropriation, conversion, misuse or malversation of public funds.
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