Agriculture group won’t turn back on Pangilinan amid scandal
ROSALES, Pangasinan—Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag), an umbrella group of 32 farmers’ and agriculture organizations, on Friday backed Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan after a rice trader dragged his name into an alleged extortion case.
“We don’t believe that Secretary Pangilinan would do that,” Rosendo So, Sinag president, said in a telephone interview.
“We in the agricultural sector do not believe such allegations,” Sinag said in a statement, also quoting So.
“When Secretary Pangilinan still headed the agriculture committee in the Senate, he ran after hoarders for illegal importation worth billions of pesos. And now we’re just talking of millions? It’s very hard to imagine this claim,” the statement said.
In a complaint filed in the National Bureau of Investigation, rice trader Jomerito “Jojo” Soliman claimed that P15 million was extorted from him by National Food Authority Administrator Arthur Juan and his assistant, lawyer Patricia Galang. At least P10 million of the money was supposed to be divided equally between Pangilinan and Interior Secretary Mar Roxas.
So said that while he could not comment on the charges until he had more information, Sinag, which has been at the forefront of the fight against food smuggling, still had confidence in Pangilinan as agriculture czar.
When Pangilinan served as senator, So said, he supported Sinag’s campaign against rice smuggling, which the Senate eventually investigated.
In May, Sinag welcomed Pangilinan’s appointment, saying the former senator would be a positive addition to the reform efforts and local food self-sufficiency programs of the Department of Agriculture, the antismuggling campaign of the Bureau of Customs and the pro-Filipino agriculture legislative agenda of the Senate agriculture committee.
Soliman claimed that the money was in exchange for the dropping of charges against him and the reopening of his padlocked warehouse in Bulacan province, which was raided by a police team led by Roxas and Pangilinan in July.
“Soliman’s importation was misdeclared and now he is trying to turn the tables on Secretary Pangilinan. So who is lying now?” the Sinag statement said.
Sinag has been waging a battle against the smuggling of agricultural products, particularly rice and garlic, and supported the government’s enforcement of a rice importation quota.
In recent statements, Sinag said the government lost more than P65 billion in income as a result of smuggling. Gabriel Cardinoza, Inquirer Northern Luzon
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