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Inside job in rice hoarding probed

/ 12:06 AM August 03, 2014
rice

INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

LEGANES, ILOILO—De facto Agriculture Secretary Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan has ordered an investigation into the possible involvement of employees and officials of the National Food Authority (NFA) in the illegal diversion and repacking of NFA rice in Iloilo and other provinces.

Pangilinan, a former senator who has a Cabinet rank as presidential adviser on food security, was here to inspect hundreds of bags of rice that were seized by the National Bureau of Investigation from warehouses that are allegedly being used in the illegal diversion and repacking of rice.

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With Pangilinan was NFA administrator Arthur Juan. “If the NFA rice is supposed to be for retailers, there is no reason for it to be here,” Juan told reporters at one of the warehouses in Barangay Napnod in this town, some 11 kilometers north of Iloilo City.

The warehouse is owned by trader Dennis de Vicente, an accredited transporter and seller of NFA rice. NBI agents raided the warehouse on Thursday and seized more than 1,000 bags of rice. Also found during the raid were empty sacks with NFA labels, unlabeled sacks, repacking equipment and weighing scales.

At least 10 workers were caught in the act of repacking rice during the raid, the first in Western Visayas following an order by President Aquino for law enforcers to crack down on rice hoarders amid sharp spikes in prices.

Pangilinan said NFA rice, which is sold for P32 per kilogram, was being repacked and sold as commercial rice for at least P48 per kg.

Profit from the volume of rice recovered from the warehouse could reach P1 million, according to Pangilinan.

The unlabeled bags containing NFA rice were believed to contain only 49 kg of rice nstead of 50 kg.

NBI agents monitored and followed three Elf trucks leaving the NFA warehouse in Jaro District in Iloilo City to the warehouse in Leganes town.

A fourth truck was also in the warehouse when the agents entered the compound.

The driver of the fourth truck said he transported rice from the NFA warehouse in Barangay Lawa-an in Roxas City, Capiz province, to Leganes, according to lawyer Jeremiah Sargado, supervising agent of the NBI Western Visayas office.

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Juan said NFA rice transported from warehouses should go directly to retailers in markets and not to privately owned warehouses. The normal volume of rice allocated to retailers ranges from 30 to 50 bags weekly.

Raul Chong, NFA Western Visayas director, said that even before the raid on the warehouse in Leganes, five retailers in Capiz were being monitored. He said NFA employees and officials would be investigated as well.

“We have to investigate everybody. Nobody is above suspicion,” he told the Inquirer.

The NFA has suspended the accreditation of De Vicente as a rice transporter, wholesaler and retailer.

De Vicente, who was not at the warehouse during the raid, is believed to be in Manila and has not surfaced or contacted the NFA or the NBI.

The NFA is preparing charges against him and others involved in his operations for violating at least two laws that prohibit the hoarding and repacking of NFA rice to be passed off as commercial rice.

“NFA rice is for the people. He is stealing from the people,” Juan said.

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TAGS: National Food Authority, NFA, rice, rice hoarding
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