Partido Liberal members on Monday called on the government to investigate the attempted smuggling of rice worth P67.9 million off Zamboanga Sibugay recently.
Senator Bam Aquino said the smugglers, who continues to enrich themselves at the expense of poor Filiponos, should be held liable and an investigation conducted to determine those involved in rice smuggling.
“Posibleng pare-pareho ang mga sindikatong nagpapasok ng droga at iba pang illegal goods sa bansa,” added Aquino.
Senator Francis Pangilinan, for his part, lauded the Naval Forces Western Mindanao for intercepting the rice shipment off Olutanga Island in Zamboanga Sibugay on Saturday night.
According to reports, Naval Task Force 61 intercepted M/V Diamond 8, which was found to be carrying 27,180 sacks or around 1,359 metric tons of Vietnam rice.
“We laud the Navy for doing its job of protecting our territorial waters from bad elements and from those who are trying to make quick money out of our countrymen,” said Pangilinan.
Former lawmaker Erin Tañada, now Partido Liberal’s vice president for external affairs, said the government must identify and punish those responsible for the smuggling attempt.
“Baka matulad na naman ito sa isyu ng P6.4 billion na shabu smuggling na hindi napapanagot ang mga pangunahing sangkot,” said Tanada.
Meanwhile, the National Food Authority said it may sell at a cheaper price the seized smuggled rice.
In a press conference, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said it was the Department of Agriculture which suggested to sell the smuggled rice as NFA rice.
“Kung hindi nga lang po bigas iyan, that should be up for destruction din. Pero dahil makakain naman ng taumbayan, ang sinabi sa akin ng Department of Agriculture ay pupuwede po iyang ibenta as NFA rice, iyong cheap rice para ma-increase iyong stockpile ng NFA,”
The NFA has admitted its rice stock was wiped, and expects 250,000 metric tons of imported rice to arrive in the country in May to replenish its reserve.
The Naval Forces Western Mindanao, earlier apprehended a Mongolian-registered ship loaded with the smuggled rice.
Rear Adm. Rene Medina, Navforwem commander, said the illegal shipment was intercepted 15 nautical miles southwest off Olutanga Island at around 10 p.m. Saturday.
Medina said M/V Diamond 8 was manned by a 15-man crew consisting of 11 Bangladeshis and four Chinese. The ship is skippered by Lin Yang Lin, a Chinese national.
Medina said initial investigation showed the ship was loaded with some 27,180 sacks of Vietnam rice with an estimated market value of P67.9 million.
But Medina said about 8,000 sacks of rice had already been unloaded and transported to the shore by two local ships—M/V Yssa Maine and M/V Yousra.
He said the two local ships were reportedly manned by 34 Filipinos, including one minor and 17 individuals who are subject for identification.
He said they are currently locating the whereabouts of M/V Yssa Maine and M/V Yousra.
Medina added that prior to the apprehension of the Mongolian-registered ship, a joint intelligence information and monitoring had been established by the Littoral Monitoring System Pilas (LMS-Pilas) to facilitate the rescue and assistance operation for the unresponsive vessel believed to be harassed by terrorists’ groups at around 7 p.m. on Saturday.
Medina ordered the Naval Task Force 61 to conduct maritime patrol and interdiction operation in the area after the “suspicious movement made by the unknown foreign vessel.”
Medina said the BRP-General Marian Alvarez escorted the M/V Diamond 8 to this city. The foreign-owned ship is moored at the Ensign Majini Pier of the Naval Station Romulo Espaldon for further investigation, documentation of undocumented individuals on board and proper disposition.
He said they immediately coordinated with the Bureau of Customs, Department of Trade and Industry, Bureau of Immigration, Department of Social Welfare and Development and the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group for proper action.
He said the successful apprehension of the smuggled tons of rice is a result of an intensified and focused maritime patrol and operation of the Philippine Navy in this part of the country. With PNA