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Farmers challenge Marcos to dismantle ‘agri smuggling mafia’

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) said the list of alleged top smugglers of agricultural products into the country is nothing new and President Ferdinand Marcos Jr should dismantle what it calls the “smuggling mafia” in the agricultural sector.

The KMP said the new president and Department of Agriculture secretary must exercise political will in punishing erring and corrupt government officials involved in large-scale agricultural smuggling as revealed in a recent 63-page Senate Committee report.

Hindi na bago ang listahan. Mga lumang pangalan na dati nang nadadawit sa korapsyon sa importasyon at smuggling ang nasa listahan ng Senate Committee of the Whole Report 649,” KMP chairperson Danilo Ramos said.

(The list is nothing new. The Senate Committee of the Whole Report 649 consists of old names that figured in the corrupt importation and smuggling in the past.)

Marcos’ first order of business in the department is to stop the rampant smuggling of agricultural produce and reprimand all those involved in large-scale smuggling, the KMP said.

The farmers’ group added the crime must be considered as economic sabotage as defined by Republic Act 10845, the anti-large scale agricultural smuggling law.

 The farmers’ group added that the so-called mafia works in cahoots with agriculture and Bureau of Customs officials, including former agriculture secretary William Dar who it accuses of being accountable for the unending smuggling of agricultural products coming mostly from China.

‘Smugglers and corrupt officials’

The Senate report named the following suspected smugglers and protectors:

Bureau of Customs Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero, BOC deputy commissioner Raniel Ramiro, BOC deputy commissioner for revenue collection and monitoring group Vener Baquiran, BOC director for customs intelligence and investigation service Geofrey Tacio, and Yasser Abbas of the BOC import and assessment division.

Department of Agriculture (DA) officials including Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan of the DA Central Office, Dir. George Culaste of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), Eduardo Gongona of the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, and Laarni Roxas, of BPI – Region 3 (Central Luzon).

The said intelligence list also contained the following names and information: Navotas Mayor Toby Tiangco, BFAR products, smuggling protector; David Tan (aka David Bangyan), Cebu, MICP, port of Manila, Batangas; Gerry Teves, meat products, No. 1 smuggler playing in all major ports (i.e. Subic, MICP, POM, Batangas, Cebu); Mayor Jun Diamante, all agri products playing in port of Davao, CDO, Cebu, Subic; Manuel Tan, agri-fishery products playing in Subic, CDO, and Batangas; Jude Logarta, Cebu; Leah Cruz, (aka Luz Cruz and Lilia Matabang Cruz), tagged as “Onion Queen,” DA SPSIC controller/manipulator (i.e. Subic, MICP, CDO); Andy Chua, George Tan, David Bangayan, Paul Teves, Tommy Go, and Wilson Chua.

Customs chief Guerrero denied being a smuggling protector, saying he in fact spearheaded the implementation of reforms in the bureau in the last three years.

In radio interviews, Guerrero lamented that they were not asked to reply before the Senate report was issued and made public.

He added that their accusers should just file charges in court to enable them to reply appropriately.

Senator Imee Marcos, the president’s elder sister, defended Tiangco, saying she knew him to be one of the most active mayors against smuggling.

Immediate past Senate president Vicente Sotto III presented the list to President Marcos prior to the latter’s assumption of office last Thursday.

“I informed him of the results of our investigation,” Sotto announced after their meeting, further advising the President: “Don’t leave anything at the top, if possible from the secretary down to the undersecretaries and assistant secretaries.”

In a June 29 interview with Super Radyo dzBB, Sotto also revealed he has submitted the list and the entire report to the Office of the Ombudsman.

“Pinadala ko ‘yung kopya sa Ombudsman. Hindi lang ‘yung listahan pinadala ko sa Ombudsman, ‘yung buong committee report. Nandoon iyong rekomendasyon ng buong committee ng Senado, kung sino-sino ang dapat kasuhan. Kumpleto ‘yon,” Sotto said. (I sent a copy to the Ombudsman. I sent the entire committee report, not just the list. It includes the recommendations of the entire committee of the Senate, who must be charged. It’s complete.) # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Cagayan execs urge new Ceza chief: probe Port Irene ‘skeletons’

Report and photo by Melvin Gascon

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya—Local leaders in Cagayan recently called on the newly-installed administrator of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza) to launch an “honest-to-goodness” investigation of supposed irregularities in the operations of its freeport in Santa Ana town.

Gov.  Manuel Mamba urged lawyer Raul Lambino, who took his oath as new Ceza administrator last July 24, to immediately order a probe “to stop all illegal activities and corruption perpetuated by the past administration.”

The governor said the new Ceza chief should reassess the viability of Port Irene as an international port, the operations of which, he said, have been marred by allegations of corruption.

“Billions of public funds have been poured into Port Irene, for which only a pittance was derived by government in the last 23 years of its existence, and for which transparency and accountability in its operation is seriously demanded,” Mamba said. 

Bloated

Port Irene is the main port of the CSEZFP in Casambalangan village in Santa Ana, which for several years became the hub of two of Ceza’s controversial industries: used car importation and export of magnetite sand.

It is also the location of the P5-billion breakwater project, for which the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago raised red flags in a Senate expose for alleged overpricing, having been constructed by a firm linked to Senator Juan Ponce Enrile. 

Enrile was the main author of Republic Act 7922, the law which created CEZA and declared inclusion of the entire Santa Ana town and two island territories of Aparri town within the economic zone. 

Enrile’s daughter, Katrina, sits as a Ceza board director.

In 2013, the sale of second-hand vehicles at the Cagayan freeport was stopped after the Bureau of Customs clamped down on the trade by refusing to process their release and registration papers, citing a Supreme Court ruling earlier nullifying an executive order Ceza used as basis for the importations.

The shutdown led to the eventual wastage of about 900 second-hand vehicles imported from Japan and Korea, which until today are left rotting in a five-hectare car depot in Casambalangan.

The shipping of magnetite sand, meanwhile, was halted in 2014 following the departure of several Chinese firms earlier given what critics described as “dubious” permits to extract black sand (magnetite) from the coastal and riverbank communities of northern Cagayan.

Wasted

According to government records, Chinese firms shipped out more than 2.4 million tons of magnetite from Cagayan to China through Port Irene for a period of five years, from 2009 to 2014.

Two of its biggest licensees for its gambling operations, Eastern Hawaii Gaming and Leisure and Meridien Vista Gaming Corp., have been dragged in suits and investigations over alleged money laundering and illegal gambling operations.

Ceza-issued working visas were also cited at a Senate investigation last year for their involvement in alleged human trafficking, economic sabotage and bribery charges against Chinese gambling operator Jack Lam.

“(The previous use of Port Irene) has been a waste of opportunity and government funds in its 23 years of existence. We have to look for a new alternative port that is more secure, and can allow the entry of bigger ships with international routes,” Mamba said.

Santa Ana Mayor Darwin Tobias, for his part, also said Lambino should first clean up the mess that was left behind by his predecessor, to “start with a clean slate.”

“He should be wary whom he trusts (within Ceza) because there are some people there who are behind all the anomalies that hounded the agency for many years,” he said.

Tobias, who sits as a member of the Ceza board, expressed hope, however, of having “better” working relations with Lambino. 

Ceza and the Santa Ana government have perennially been at odds over conflicts of policies between officials, mainly between Tobias and Jose Mari Ponce, the former Ceza administrator and Lambino’s predecessor.

Things came to a head in 2013 when Ponce’s son lost to Tobias in a hotly-contested mayoralty race.

Upon taking up his post, Lambino, in a press statement, announced his plans of repairing Port Irene, the dredging of its “heavily silted” seabed, and the construction of additional wharves “to expand its capacity.”

“As the President’s personal choice, I will lead by example and turn the (CSEZFP) into his vision of a vibrant economic growth center that is efficient and clean and free of corruption,” said Lambino, described as “a stalwart” of President Duterte’s party”, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino Lakas ng Bayan (PDP Laban).

He vowed to transform CSEZFP “into a bustling economic growth center and tourist destination and a major trans-shipment and logistics hub in Northern Luzon.” #