By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Bb. Joyce Cabral in Manila and Gegemon Babon and Sugar Hicap in Tarlac City
MANILA, Philippines-Four of the biggest rural-based organizations in the country– the activist peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), the peasant women federation Amihan, the agricultural worker group Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura (UMA) and the left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) on Thursday urged Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte to pursue a joint or separate congressional inquiry on the alleged over importation of rice in 2004 and 2007.
“In aid of legislation, the people of rural Philippines hereby order Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and House Speaker Feliciano “Sonny” Belmonte to undertake a joint or separate congressional inquiry on rice importation that cost the Filipino people of P 171.6 billion in taxpayers money,” said KMP secretary general Danilo Ramos and Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap in a press statement.
The two activist leaders suggested the “rice inquiry” to open the books of the National Food Authority (NFA), including inventory, records of transactions and financial records of the food authority from 2004 up to June 2010.
Ramos and Hicap, who spoke in behalf of their peers in Amihan women peasant federation and UMA agricultural labor group said all the officials of the Department of Agriculture and the NFA from 2004 up to June 2010 shall be subpoenaed by the rice inquiry task force to be put up jointly and separately by Congress.
KMP and Pamalakaya said those who should be made answerable for the anarchic importation of rice in 2004 and 2007 referring to the 900,000 metric tons of rice imported as against the 117,000 metric tons needed to fill up the gap in supply in 2004, and the 1.827 million metric tons imported by the Philippine government compared to he 589,000 metric tons needed to fill up the gap in rice supply.
“If that is the case, then former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her then agriculture secretary now Bohol Rep. Arthur Yap should take the center stage of the rice inquiry that should be called by Congress at the soonest possible time, maybe next week,” the groups said.
KMP and Pamalakaya also suggested that while Congress is investigating the rice scam jointly or separately, Reps. Arroyo and Yap shall be suspended from performing their jobs as legislators of their respective districts until the investigation is done and concrete legislative and legal actions have been made to address the over importation of rice and the corruption issues which surround the anarchic buying of rice from sources abroad.
The groups said Congress can make proposals out of the results of the rice inquiry like forwarding corruption cases or legislative complaints before the House Ethics Committee which could decide on the expulsion of Arroyo and Yap from Congress.
“The case People of the Philippines vs. Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Rep. Arthur Yap must be pursued at all cost. We are talking here of 171.6 billion pesos drawn against the people’s hard earned taxes. The NFA can’t even buy 10 percent of the farmers’ produce in the nine-year rule of Arroyo, but billions of pesos of people’s money were spent for unwarranted importation,” added Pamalakaya and KMP.
Earlier. Danilo Bonabon, NFA director in Central Visayas, Wednesday said that around 2 million bags of rice were arriving in Cebu City until the end of August for Central and Eastern Visayas and the cities of Pagadian and Dipolog. He said this shipment would be on top of the 2.6 million bags of imported rice stored in different warehouses in Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor and Negros Oriental.
Lito Banayo, newly appointed NFA chief, yesterday said he was asking the Department of Justice to investigate why the NFA under Arroyo had authorized the Philippine International Trading Corp. (PTIC) to import 20,000 metric tons of rice from Vietnam in spite of the surplus. #