Farmers hope next DOJ chief will go after smugglers
FARMER GROUPS pushing for the prosecution of rice smugglers on Thursday welcomed the coming resignation of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, saying that case against alleged rice smuggler Davidson Bangayan may finally prosper.
The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) urged the next justice secretary to prioritize the filing of charges against Bangayan, also known as David Tan, and “other identified smugglers.”
“We are happy not because we are supporting [De Lima’s] candidacy (for senator) but because the biggest obstacle in bringing smugglers to justice will soon be out of the [Department of Justice],” Sinag chair Rosendo So told reporters.
“Rice farmers and even rice traders have risked their lives to provide evidence on the transactions of Bangayan, and yet for the past 22 months, De Lima did not move a finger,” So said.
Sinag includes 33 organizations of farmers, agribusiness operators and party-list groups.
The group said De Lima indicated as early as January 2014, in hearings on rice smuggling by the Senate committee of agriculture, that there was a strong case against Bangayan.
“We are disappointed that what the DOJ (Department of Justice) did was contrary to this pronouncement,” So said.
Earlier, the DOJ returned the Bangayan case to the National Bureau of Investigation so it may be strengthened.
So said that despite the release by the Office for Competition—which is under DOJ supervision—of two reports about a cartel involved in garlic and onion smuggling, “the DOJ has not filed formal charges against Leah Cruz, the [alleged] leader of this cartel.”
“Smugglers carry on. Even if they [are] identified in congressional hearings, this does not matter because they know that the DOJ won’t file charges against them,” So said.
“We believe Bangayan is still operating illegally in the southern Philippines,” he added.
Lost in revenue
Citing official data, Sinag said that in 2014 alone, P39 billion worth of agricultural products—including meat and crops, like onions and garlic—was smuggled into the country, representing P8.4 billion in lost tax revenue.
Sinag called for the passage of House Bill No. 6209, which makes the smuggling of agricultural commodities economic sabotage. The group said a similar Senate bill had passed on final reading.
“By making the smuggling of agricultural products a nonbailable offense and with the impending appointment of a new justice secretary, we are hoping these would contribute to curbing smuggling activities,” So said.
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