Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Sunday said the National Intelligence Coordination Agency (NICA) will submit the names of suspected smugglers of agricultural products.
Sotto, who is running for vice president in the May 9 elections, said he was informed by NICA they would release the names on April 28 after their meeting on April 27.
During the last Senate Committee of the Whole hearing, Sotto tagged four individuals as the alleged brains in the smuggling.
He named them as a certain Manuel Tan, who supposedly operates in the freeports of Subic, Cagayan de Oro (CDO), and Batangas and one Andrew Chang, who allegedly operates in Subic, Manila International Container Port (MICP), Port of Manila (POM), and Batangas. He also identified a certain Luz/Lea Cruz, who is reportedly the “onion queen” who operates in Subic, MICP, and CDO and a certain Jun Diamante, alleged to be a smuggler of agri-fisheries products in CDO.
The names of the four, Sotto said, were given to him by a whistleblower, who supposedly described them as “well-versed” in the processes of importation and familiar with the Department of Agriculture and the Bureau of Customs.
Sotto threatened to recommend charges against them if NICA fails to give them the names of individuals who are allegedly protecting the smugglers of agricultural products.
He also told the hearing there were reports that the four are being coddled by politicians.
NICA director Edsel Batalla, focal person of Sub-Task Group on Economic Intelligence (STG-EI), said the names of the four are included in their watchlist but information on their alleged links to smuggling have yet to be validated.
Aside from the four, Batalla also said there are more than 20 individuals, including the so-called “protectors” who were on their list.
However, he said its information still needed to be validated as these are all “raw information” from their operations.
Customs chief Rey Leonardo Guerrero also said he is familiar with some of the names disclosed by Sotto but did not know the others.
The Senate Committee of the Whole is investigating the proliferation of smuggled agricultural products. It is also digging into the alleged involvement of the Bureau of Customs in the illegal activities.
Last week, Sotto told a media forum that they have the names of the “untouchables” involved in vegetable smuggling from China.
“This is the third hearing already and we would like to come up with a committee report as soon as possible. Even while we campaign, we’re trying to squeeze time for this is part of our job and so that the Ombudsman can look into the matters at hand,” he said.
Sotto said they will invoke parliamentary immunity in case they are fed the wrong names.
During the second hearing of the Committee of the Whole on March 28, the League of Associations at the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post public relations officer, Agot Balonoy, said they are incurring huge losses due to rampant smuggling.
“Our regular daily order of carrots declined by up to 40 percent or equivalent to P2.5 million per day since last year. Retailers and consumers now prefer to buy smuggled carrots from China,” Balonoy said.
United Broiler Raisers Association president Elias Jose Inciong also accused the Department of Agriculture of being “pro-importation.”