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Piñol slams DA corruption

DAVAO CITY – “Grabe, grabe, grabe.”

This was how Agriculture Secretary-designate Emmanuel “Manny” Piñol described the corruption at the Department of Agriculture in his meeting with different stakeholders in the agriculture sector at the Garden Oasis Restaurant here Friday.

According to Piñol, based on the inspection and observation trips he had throughout Mindanao after he was named by President-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte as the next DA head, “billions of pesos were lost due to rice smuggling.”

He also rued the inaction of DA officials and personnel on the plight of ordinary farmers because “they were busy making money.”

Piñol, a former governor of North Cotabato and who is a hands-on farmer in M’lang in the same province, tagged the National Food Authority as one of the most corrupt agencies under the DA and alleged that some of its officials have long been in cahoots with unscrupulous Bureau of Customs officials in the smuggling of rice in the country.

“Binebenta ‘yung import permit. And then, ang modus operandi nila – in cahoots with the BoC – is that they will use the import permits again and again. Papapasukin nila ang produkto, and then repeat it three times (using the same permit),” Piñol said.

Based also on his dialogues with stakeholders and some NFA personnel, Piñol gathered that government officials get rebate of $20 per metric ton of imported rice from such counties like Vietnam.

“Now, we are importing, because of shortfall, about two million metric tons every year. Multiply that by $20, that’s how much they are earning,” he rued.

That was why Piñol was suspecting that the DA has not been working enough to increase the rice productivity of the country.

And apart from the DA and BoC officials who are involved in the scam, Piñol said he also got information that their Vietnamese counterparts could be in on the scheme.

The incoming DA secretary also reported that in a visit to Zamboanga City, he found out that there are “90-plus small ports and piers all over the city and nobody could even supervise the small piers.”

“They suspect that the big ships come in with smuggled goods, docking maybe in Jolo or Tawi-Tawi before smaller boats ferry smuggled items into the city unnoticed,” Piñol disclosed.

He charged that the Maritime Industry Authority assigned in Zamboanga City has been too lenient in enforcing the law.

“And worse, BoC does not have warehouses to keep confiscated items,” said Piñol who added that a common payoff to the BoC was R14,000 for every smuggled shipment.

Piñol made his revelations during a meeting with leaders of the agriculture sector, in the banana and aquaculture industries, as well as hog growers. Officials and members of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce also attended the meeting.

Among those who shared their problems were Val Turtur of the cacao industry; Cito Limbago of the coco milling industry; Edward So of the Hog Raisers Association of Davao; Rey Acain of the Davao del Norte Vegetable Farmers Association; Alvin Teves of the South Philippines Egg Producers Association; Freddie Maranon of Banana export; Vic Lao, a poultry exporter specializing on peking ducks, and Ludevito Batilong of the aquaculture industry.

Piñol also lambasted previous DA officials who advised banana growers to contemplate on shifting to multi-cropping after China, one of the biggest importers of banana, imposed stricter rules on its importation of the fruit.

“Mag multi-cropping kayo with banana? That’s how ignorant they are. That is the extent of ignorance they have with the banana industry, which is the pride of Philippine agriculture,” he said.

Pinol said that he will lead a transition meeting with DA Secretary Proceso J. Alcala and his staff on June 8 and 9.

“I would like to assure you that there is a lot of money in the DA, and I will give it to you,” he told the audience.

Piñol said Duterte only had two marching orders for him when he named him as DA secretary. “And these were to be sure that food is available and affordable for every Filipino family, and to stop corruption,” he noted.