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Senate to summon Banayo over alleged rice smuggling

SENATORS probing the P500-million rice-smuggling case at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone in Zambales province, will call back former National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Lito Banayo to their next hearing to explain the agency’s procedures that allowed smugglers to use legitimate cooperatives as fronts in illegally bringing in large shipments of the basic staple.

“Yes, he [Banayo] will be asked to attend the hearing again as requested by Senate President Pro Tempore Jose Estrada Jr.,” said Sen. Francis Pangilinan, chairman of the rice-smuggling inquiry.

Citing previous testimonies, Pangilinan said the “whole process [covering rice importations] is conducted, certified and accredited by the NFA, so [we would] like to hear Mr. Banayo’s response on the latest findings of the Senate inquiry.”

The lawmaker clarified, though, that they are yet to establish any link between Banayo and the rice-smuggling syndicate that brought in 21,000 metric tons of Indian rice worth about P500 million that Customs agents seized at the Subic port.

“He [Banayo] admits that because of the two-week period [dedicated to accrediting] all these rice-importer organizations, nagkaroon talaga ng problema.”

During Monday’s hearing, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile suggested that concerned government authorities should find ways to directly benefit duly accredited rice farmers’ cooperatives, instead of so-called third parties used as fronts by smuggling syndicates.

“Mas maraming farmers ang makikinabang pag binago ang sistema ng rice importation,” Enrile said.

According to Pangilinan, his colleagues are also set to grill rice traders at the next hearing to verify the alleged collusion with smugglers to bring in imported rice shipments without paying the right taxes.

“Pipigain pa rin natin ’yung mga traders at ’yung mga go-between at aalamin pa natin. Hindi ako contented sa ilang mga sagot sa hearing. Palagay ko meron pa silang hindi sinisawalat sa atin. Hindi ako naniniwala na basta nagkakilala lang sila. Masyado namang coincidental,” Pangilinan said.

“But if we will look on the data and evidence, it seems it [was] orchestrated, syndicated, calibrated [and] organized,” he added.

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