Congress pressed to probe rice overpricing, despite denials of top agri officials

Congress pressed to probe rice overpricing, despite denials of top agri officials

Despite the denials made by Department of Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap and top executives of the agriculture department, the left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Tuesday asked lawmakers to investigate the alleged overpricing of imported rice from Vietnam.

“Facts and figures cannot be denied by statements of outright denials. We strongly appeal to members of both chambers of Congress to get at the bottom of the issue and let the truth come out in the name of national interest and for the sake of the taxpaying public,” Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap.

The Pamalakaya leader said the denials of agriculture secretary Yap, agriculture undersecretary Bernie Fondevilla and National Food Authority (NFA) Administrator Jesus Navarro cannot be take at face value.

“These officials can lie to high heaven to protect the sinister agenda of the corrupt regime, but they cannot escape from the call of accountability. A full-blown inquiry is a must and we cannot afford to let this case of big-ticket of corruption to go like an ordinary thing of the past,” Hicap added.

The militant group said Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Prospero Nograles should immediately calendar the investigation of overpriced rice imports which were bought from Vietnam at an average of $ 456 to $ 459 per ton last December, where the prevailing price of Vietnam rice per ton at that time was only $ 380 per ton for an overpriced value of 45 percent per ton.

“Enrile and Nograles should do their assignment and call for an all-out probe. They should quit acting as top apologists of the corrupt Arroyo administration, and should instead go for a giant kill, nothing more, nothing less,” said Pamalakaya.

According to DA undersecretary Fondevilla, based on December rates, the Philippine government obtained a good deal at the time because the actual import price agreed upon by Manila and Hanoi was
$ 549.50 per ton, which include add on costs like freight, bid and performance bonds, surveyor’s fees and the cost of money arising from the Philippine government’s paying of imports not in cash but on a deferred credit basis for six months.

NFA’s Navarro also insisted that the transaction also saved some $ 7.54 million for the government based on the prevailing February prices of the grain as posted by the Board of Trade of Thailand, because the rice imports from Vietnam was acquired at an average of $ 549.50 per ton, while the February price of rice imports soared to $ 656.15 per ton.

“The NFA administrator is either bad in math or just playing fool here. The prevailing price of rice imports at the time the country acquired rice from Vietnam was pegged at $ 380 per ton and this was in December of 2008. The point of reference of Navarro was February where average price of rice imports shoot up to $ 656.15 per ton. Mr. Navarro is engaged in all out manipulation here to justify the possible acts of corruption performed by the greedy regime of President Arroyo,” said Pamalakaya.

Agriculture officials also said the rice import transaction with Vietnam was approved by the Private Sector Procurement Transparency Group (PSPTG) headed by lawyer Paterno Menzon representing the Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference (BCC). #

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