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Solons grill Subic chief on rice smuggling.

Byline: Christian V. Esguerra

OFFICIALS of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) yesterday faced a hostile House committee over their apparent failure to sanction a local consignee implicated in the smuggling of nearly P500-million worth of Indian rice last April.

Members of the committee on good government took turns castigating SBMA administrator Roberto Garcia, noting that he had yet to sanction Metroeastern Trading Corp. some six months after the Bureau of Customs confiscated the shipment.

Metroeastern was the free port locator to which 420,000 50-kilogram sacks of rice were consigned. "I'm quite surprised why you have not taken any action against this locator when clearly, [it] has made some misdeclarations," Rep. Jerry Trenas, committee chairman, told Garcia in a hearing.

Incensed

Trenas was incensed by the seeming inconsistency of Garcia's response to another representative's query as to whether or not the SBMA had imposed any administrative sanction on Metroeastern.

To an earlier query by Leyte Rep. Andres Salvacion on whether the SBMA had suspended Metroeastern's operations in light of the confiscation of the Indian rice, Garcia had replied that the agency was in the process of "suspending" the consignee.

But he changed his tone when Salvacion asked for a copy of the suspension order. Under pressure, Garcia later apologized to the committee for his mixed response, and promised to suspend Metroeastern's operations.

Garcia earlier said the SBMA was still "waiting for the whole process to be completed" before imposing any sanction against Metroeastern. But he said the agency would take a "close look" if the locator applied for another import permit.

Legal implications

"Let's put it this way. We will take a look at the legal implications of our suspending (Metroeastern) in the light of the cases filed, and on that basis we will come back to the committee and tell you what our decision is," he told the representatives, who did not agree.

Salvacion said the alleged attempt to smuggle Indian rice was "already a ground for the suspension of the operation of that company." "We are only talking about suspension," he said. "We are not talking about cancellation of license." The committee also tackled the purported smuggling of 94,000 bags of rice in Legazpi, Albay.

Diverted rice

Surigao del Sur Rep. Philip Pichay quizzed National Food Authority (NFA) officials on why the shipment landed in Albay when it was supposed to have been bound for Mindanao.

NFA officer in charge Ludovico Jarina said the agency could come up with a "management decision" on a shipment's route, say, in case of calamity. But Pichay noted that there was no such incident when the bags of rice ended up in Albay.

Tarlac Rep. Jeci Lapus reminded Jarina about a previous admission that the shipment arrived in Albay by "mistake." "When it was caught...now the NFA is justifying it," the congressman said.

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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Date:Nov 7, 2012
Words:474
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