Senators see connivance in SBMA alleged rice smuggling issueBy Katherine Evangelista
MANILA, Philippines—Senators believe that there was collusion among officials of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, the Indian rice exporter and the local consignee which led to the unloading of 450,000 sacks of supposedly smuggled rice to the Philippines last April.
In a chance interview following the hearing of the Senate committee of Agriculture and Food on Thursday, Senator Ralph Recto said that so far, the testimonies of the resource persons have confirmed this.
“Maliwanag naman yung sinasabi nila talaga may balak ipuslit yung 420,000 sacks of rice na yan to the domestic market. May sabwatan mula dun sa Indian company, dito sa locator, yung SBMA ang nagpakilala pa at nagsabi sige dalhin ninyo sa Subic, papayagan naming na pumasok sa port of entry at kayo ang magwe-warehouse habang maghahanap kami ng paraan para makakuha ng lisensya mula sa pamahalaan para makapasok sa merkado, yun ang lumabalas sa hearing ngayong araw na ito (It’s clear from what they’re saying that they have a plan to sneak in 420,000 sacks of rice to the domestic market. There’s connivance between the Indian company and the locator. It’s even the SBMA that told them to bring the shipment to Subic, which allowed them to gain port of entry and that they’d be kept in a warehouse while looking for ways to get license from the government to enter the local market. That is what has come out of the hearing today),” Recto said.
During the hearing, Cesar Bulaon, representing Metro Eastern Trading Corp., the consignee of the 420,000 bags of rice equivalent to 21,000 metric tons packed in bags of 50 kilos, said the shipment from an Indian company registered as Amira C Foods International and was a transhipment initially bound for Indonesia. However, the cargo was disallowed to be unloaded in Indonesia after the Indonesian consignee failed to secure an importation permit and was then transported to the Philippines for warehousing, Bulaon said. But he also admitted that they do not have an importation permit to bring in the cargo.
He said that SBMA senior deputy administrator for business Stef Saño approached them regarding the shipment of Indian rice and a certain Vicente “Bong” Cuevas, who he described as a “well-connected broker,” was the one who introduced Bulaon to Protik Guha who he said was the CEO of Amira Foods and helped strike the deal between the two companies. Bulaon said that their company agreed to store the rice in the Philippines and that Amira Foods requested that they be assisted in finding local buyers of their shipment. Bulaon also admitted to having known Saño for some time already but said that it was his first time transacting with Cuevas.
During the hearing, NFA Administrator Angelito Banayo said they did not issue an importation permit to Metro Eastern for the shipment and that no representative from the company had inquired about securing such permit. He added that as per NFA policy they do not issue importation permits after the cargo has arrived. The shipment arrived at the Subic Freeport on April 4, 2012.
“Sa madaling salita, this shipment was intended for the Philippines?” Enrile asked to which Bulaon answered yes.
Bulaon also admitted that it was their first time dealing with the Indian exporter.
Enrile expressed disbelief because it was such a huge shipment and it was unlikely that Amira would be entrusted to a company they are dealing with for the first time.