"Legal eagles strongly suspect something is amiss."
What do we have here?
Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission Commissioner Greco Belgica must be trying to send a strong message to the Office of the Ombudsman—the government’s anti-graft body—that he can use his clout even without the latter’s imprimatur.
His latest move was an entrapment operation against two ranking Bureau of Internal Revenue officials based in Manila whom he accused of extortion/direct bribery.
Belgica claims that a taxpayer who refused to be identified told him that the BIR officials were asking for a P2-million bribe for settlement of the taxpayer’s tax liabilities.
Malacañang Executive Order No. 43 which established PACC in 2017 defined the agency’s jurisdiction and exercise of its powers upon complaint or motu proprio, and concurrently with the Office of the Ombudsman.
The Belgica-initiated operation left out the participation of the government’s anti-graft court. Operatives from the Camp Crame-based Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) were tapped to carry out the entrapment, after which the two suspects were booked and hauled for inquest at the City Prosecutor’s Office of Manila.
Legal eagles are likely to suspect something much amiss here since Belgica failed to follow PACC-prescribed rules. Among these is that respondents to a verified complaint should be provided formal summons, a copy of the complaint and attached supporting documents, and that a legitimate complainant must be identified rather than hidden under the cloak of anonymity. Belgica claims the complainant refused to be identified.
The PACC’s formal summons also asks the respondent to answer the complaint within seven days and file six hard copies of the answer plus additional copies to the complainant/s and co-respondents. Such rule of procedure would disallow a complainant to remain incognito.
But Belgica went full steam ahead, thus the Manila City Prosecutor’s Office during inquest of the suspects virtually castigated the PACC commissioner for his lapses in legally prescribed procedure, citing that:
a) Belgica failed to swear and subscribe before an authorized administering officer his complaint which is part of the record;
b) Witnesses also failed to execute sworn statements that they indeed participated in the entrapment operation; and
c) “The arresting officers.. themselves did not actually see how the direct bribery was consummated.”
The City Prosecutor’s Office also noted that “there is no sufficient evidence to substantiate that an agreement between the taxpayer and the two suspects had to perform an act in connection with the performance of their official duties in consideration of a gift of money.”
Senate versus DA
Senator Cynthia Villar has chided Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol for claiming that the National Food Authority will not be able to sell cheap rice to the public under the Rice Tariffication Bill, which has been passed by both chambers of Congress.
Senate Bill No. 1998 seeks to amend Republic Act No. 8178 or the Agricultural Tariffication Act of 1996 and replace the quantitative restriction on rice imports. The bill is among the measures pushed by the economic managers of the Duterte administration to address high rice prices.
Villar, the principal author of the Senate bill, told Piñol that “the NFA is not allowed anymore to import rice under the new law but only to buy from local farmers.” She pointed out that the lifting of the QR would also remove all “unnecessary intervention” of the government in the rice market.
Villar, chair of the committee on food and agriculture, also informed Piñol that the NFA would not be abolished with the implementation of the law. She said that only the regulatory and importation functions of the NFA will be removed, with the agency focusing on buffer-stocking with its inventory acquired from domestic farmers.
According to the senator, the budget for the NFA should be pegged at around P7 billion, strictly for the maintenance of a buffer stock to stabilize the rice supply and allow it to sell subsidized rice to the poor and to release emergency supplies during periods of calamity.
Contrary to misconceptions, she said, the bill includes a package of support programs that “will help farmers adjust to competition under a tariffied regime.”
The proceeds from the tariff will be given to the farmers in the amount of P10 billion a year for the next six years to make them competitive through mechanization, better seed production, cheaper credit from state-run banks, and various extension services, including teaching them skills on modern rice farming techniques.
For his part, Senator Joel Villanueva, a co-author of the bill, said it could curb rice smuggling, a long-standing problem in this country.
Under the act, Filipino farmers will have a fighting chance against farmers from neighboring ASEAN countries as cheaper rice will start flooding the market.
Earlier, President Duterte said that even with rice tariffication and liberalization of the rice industry, the NFA shall continue to provide the public, particularly the less fortunate, with rice that is affordable and safe.