By TYRONE A. VELEZ
DAVAO CITY — Tough-talking Mayor Rodrigo Duterte has carried one stern message all throughout his mayoral tenure to criminals and syndicates: get out of the city or get killed.
This year, his message finds a new target: rice smugglers reportedly running shipments in the docks in the city.
Last December, the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Solicitor General have approached Duterte to apprise him about the city’s degenerating into the country’s “weakest link” in revenue collections in goods, and that the head of the rice syndicate, identified as David Tan/ Davidson Tan Bangayan, is currently based in Davao City and slipping huge shipments through its port.
Since then, Duterte has thrown his campaign in his usual bravado, issuing statements in his television program that suspected smugglers caught would be shot. He also warned business men to stop aiding syndicates or lose their business permits as well as their “pants”.
The mayor’s statement struck a sour note as “unethical” from the vantage point of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), an agency constantly criticizing the mayor for his “approach” towards criminals.
But Duterte only challenged the CHR. “Point to me a law which says I cannot threaten criminals? Shut up. That’s all you can think about? You know, billions and billions are lost to smuggling, and some corrupt men in government are robbing the people blind, lying through their teeth. ”
The Manila-based Philippine Daily Inquirer quoted reports from the 800-strong Federation of Phiippine Industries (FPI) that rice smuggling has cost the country at least P7 billion in lost revenues every year as well as loss of income for farmers as rice millers prefer to buy smuggled rice packed in cavans and sold at half the price of local rice.
A cavan of rice is roughly equivalent to 60 kilos.
The mayor hinted that this “cartel” can be stopped only by bringing the law hard on them.
“No amount of threats or prosecution from government has stopped smuggling. It has been going on, and is controlled by a few men, a cartel. Sa totoo lang, kung walang Pilipino papatay para sa taong bayan, mga farmer, walang mangyayari sa bayan na ito. (The truth is, if no one is going to kill for the people or the farmers, nothing’s going to happen here),” the mayor said.
“I’m not joking, we are losing billions and reducing millions of farmers to poverty,” he added.
Duterte said he is willing to go to jail for “taking the law to my hands.”
“That’s not (government’s) problem if I put the law in my own hands, I will answer to that. The problem is with Customs and smuggled rice. If they cannot protect the Filipino farmer, then I can go to prison. Is that a problem?” he asked.
Duterte has called on various law enforcement agencies and government offices to probe at the entry of smuggled rice and the whereabouts of the suspects.
The mayor said information they gathered showed the alleged leader David Tan/Davidson Bangayan is a fictitious name and is not based in Davao City. He also said there actually two people leading the operations.
“They are two of them, David Lim and David Tan. They are from Cebu. Sometimes they are into legitimate (business), but I don’t know [that much] about that.”
He said the suspects’ operations are to recycle old permits to ship imported rice.
Police investigators and the National Food Authority said there is little information on a David Tan. The Inquirer quoted the FPI saying Tan formerly smuggled scrap metal and has shifted to rice smuggling. The paper also said Tan owns a high rise commercial building in Pasig City.
Meanwhile, the local paper SunStar Davao said some 20 local rice traders under the Metro Davao Grains Association (MDGA) expressed support to the mayor’s campaign, saying the entry of smuggled rice sold at cheaper price will affect the business of rice traders and millers.
The Bureau of Customs (BOC) reported that not less than P725 million worth of smuggled rice in 1,936 shipping containers has been seized since September.
However, a lawyer of two Davao rice importer companies, Starcraft and Bold Bidder Marketing, cried foul that the BoC has defied a writ of injunction in separate courts in Manila, Batangas and Davao to release the shipment. (Tyrone A. Velez/davaotoday.com)bureau of customs, davao city, duterte, rice smuggling, rodrigo duterte