THE findings of the Senate committee on agriculture and food should “pressure” the Department of Justice to finally file smuggling charges against businessman Davidson Bangayan after his supposed links to rice smuggling was established, Senator Cynthia Villar said on Tuesday.
“In my opinion, it is illegal to use the import permit of another person for your own benefit. That is the intent of the law here,” Villar said during the Senate probe into rice smuggling.
“While (Bangayan) said this system is a normal practice in the industry, for me, it is still illegal,” Villar added, noting that the DOJ should now file charges against identified rice smugglers.
Villar noted that in February 2013, the same committee, then under former senator Francis Pangilinan, had already recommended the filing of charges.
“We asked (the DOJ) why charges have yet to be filed against the rice smugglers. And then, we also conducted hearings where we were able to connect the rice trader and eventually, showed their relationship (to the farmers’ cooperatives),” she added.
“That is enough to show that what they are doing is illegal. I think, if you look at the system, you will see that there is really something wrong with our agencies,” she said.
“You must remember that they initially did not admit they are rice traders. But now, we learned that one of them even went abroad, while the others are already missing. The mere fact that these happened is a sign that something must be wrong,” Villar said.
During the committee hearing, Bangayan admitted that he used import permits from several rice traders who were financially incapable of importing rice while the National Food Authority also confirmed that it had not issued import permit to Bangayan.
Villar said Senate lawyers are now preparing to file perjury charges against Bangayan and they will also ask the Department of Foreign Affairs to cancel his passport after most senators agreed that the businessman purportedly lied during his testimony.
Senate Minority Juan Ponce Enrile even wanted Bangayan detained at the Senate.
“Perjury is a different thing,” Enrile said. “That is the criminal act but, the insult, the affront to the committee for lying in spite of the fact that he is already confronted with evidence is separate and distinct from the criminal offense.”
But Villar said the filing of charges should suffice to sanction Bangayan, who was arrested by the National Bureau of Investigation on Monday based on a warrant of arrest issued by a Caloocan Regional Trial Court for a separate case of electricity pilferage.
At the same time, Villar said the pronouncement of Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte that “he would gladly kill” Bangayan if he tried to operate in Davao City should be taken as a tongue-in-cheek remark.
“He is just angry at criminals so every time he’s mad, he always says he will kill them... but never does,” said Villar, claiming she understands the mayor’s tough stance on criminality.
“In Mindanao, you have to be tough because if not, there will be several abuses,” she said, adding that people should take more seriously Duterte’s remark that the government talks too much but does not work enough.
“We keep on talking on talking, but we find it hard to implement. It’s true for the whole government system. It’s not only for one particular person. It’s really difficult to move the government” Villar said.
But human rights activists expressed outrage at Duterte and said such remarks from a person in authority fueled the country’s infamous culture of impunity.
“His statement, made in the halls of an institution that makes laws, encourages this culture of impunity,” said Commission on Human Rights chairwoman Loretta Ann Rosales.
Rosales said her office would attempt to instigate a criminal charge of “issuing grave threats” against Duterte, which is punishable by up to six months in jail.
But a prosecutor would have to agree to file the charge, and then the case would likely take many years to complete in the overwhelmed court system.
Groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have reported over the years that hundreds of petty criminals, including children, have been summarily executed by so-called “Davao Death Squads” linked to local officials.
Duterte has denied being involved in them, but Human Rights Watch said in a 2009 report that he had openly supported them.