AGRICULTURE Secretary Emmanuel Piñol relieved the Bureau of Plant Industry quarantine officer stationed at the Sasa Port in Davao City amid complaints from businessmen that he had been demanding grease money from exporters of Cavendish banana.
“After I received complaints from small exporters of Cavendish banana that the BPI Quarantine Officer in Sasa Port, Andres Alemania, and some of his people were demanding ‘fees’ for every container van, I immediately directed BPI Acting Director Vivencio Mamaril to issue a relief order,” said Piñol in a statement on Sunday.
Piñol said he will also issue on Monday another directive to Mamaril to “relieve the whole BPI Quarantine Service staff in Sasa Port down to the janitor and replace them with a fresh group of Quarantine Officers.”
“Corruption ends now,” he said, but clarified that “there will be due process” for those who will be relieved.
“I will dispatch graft investigators belonging to a new unit I organized in the Department of Agriculture to proceed to the Sasa Port in Davao City to validate the charges. They will interview the over 200 Cavendish banana exporters who have reportedly been paying the ‘special fees’ to the BPI Quarantine Office for so many years now. The going rate, according to sources I talked with, is PHP8,000 per container or PHP40,000 per exporter per transaction,” the DA chief said.
“Considering that there are over 200 exporters, not to mention the huge players like Dole Philippines, Sumifru, Tadeco, Uni-Frutti and others, I can just imagine how much these people, granting that the charges are true, have been raking in all these years,” he added.
As such, Piñol said a lifestyle check will be conducted on the said officials and if the charges are validated, “I will officially ask the Office of the Ombudsman to start an official investigation and recommend the filing of graft charges.”
Aside from port personnel, the port itself has been at the center of controversy recently with the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industry demanding transparency in the P18.99-billion Sasa Port modernization project following the conclusion of the second round of one-on-one consultations with bidders scheduled last month.
The chamber’s president Bonifacio Tan said the Department of Transportation and Communications and the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Center has been secretive about the project, raising suspicions in the business sector.
“The problem is that unless you are a qualified bidder, you cannot access the terms of reference and evaluate whether the project is advantageous or not. This is because the administration shelved the freedom of information bill,” Tan said.
The top official of one of the buyers of the pre-bid documents, Anflo Management and Investment Corp., said the Sasa package is “practically impossible for local operators to bid for.”
Another firm, Spain’s Obrascon Huarte Lain SA, also bought a pre-bid document but did not participate in the July 29, 2015 prequalification conference.
Among the requirements for the bidder are: 10 years of port operations, international experience for at least three years, a minimum net worth of P3 billion as of December 2014, and a letter from a bank affirming the bidder could obtain a loan facility of at least P7 billion.