As she rebuked the Bureau of Plant Industry for issuing import permits for rice even during the harvest season, Senator Cynthia Villar also slammed the “dummy arrangement” that, she says, takes advantage of the cooperatives’ tax-exemption privileges to defraud the government and rice farmers.
Villar, head of the Senate committee on agriculture, lashed back at BPI director George Culaste after admitting he could not stop the issuance of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Import Clearances even during the harvest season in March and September.
“We control it because we cannot really stop the issuance,” said Culaste during the hearing of Villar’s committee on the proposed Senate Resolution 536.
The resolution, authored by Villar, is looking into the need to improve the rice importation procedures amid allegations that certain big traders, importers and unscrupulous industry players were using the licenses of farmer cooperatives and irrigators’ associations to import rice.
Villar says the BPI can refuse to issue import permits during “certain times of the year.”
“That’s your power and if you cannot exercise that power, you don’t deserve to head the BPI. You can stop the issuance. Who will question you if you will stop the issuance?” Villar said.
She said the small farmers would be placed in a bad position in allowing rice importation during the harvest season because they needed to compete with the traders.
She became more furious when Culaste said the BPI met with stakeholders “when the peak of the harvest is coming.”
“You don’t have to call a meeting, just don’t issue an import permit!
Don’t call a meeting. Are they [importers] paying your salary? Or is it the government?” Villar said.
Villar told Culaste to change his strategy and help the small farmers whose rights and welfare should always be protected by the government.
She underscored the need to be vigilant against unscrupulous traders.
“The government has to scrutinize the rice importation players, including rice farmers’ cooperatives, to fully realize the benefit of the rice tariffication law,” she said.
Senator Imee Marcos questioned the BPI’s practice of issuing Sanitary and Phytosanitary Import Clearance to rice traders during the harvest season.
She also got the assurance from the Department of Agriculture that farmers’ cooperatives and irrigators’ associations would be stricken off from the list of rice importers as they engaged in dummy arrangement.