Prosecuting rice cartel ringleader Davidson Bangayan aka David Tan will likely result in detained Sen. Leila de Lima being implicated in the rice smuggling operations during the term of former President Noynoy Aquino.
De Lima is proving to be Noynoy’s or her Liberal Party’s errand girl for bigtime funds generation, such as raising election campaign money from the New Bilibid Prison shabu factory for which she is now being tried.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra ordered the other day the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to indict the alleged smuggler for rice trade monopoly and the illegal use of an alias.
Bangayan and his cohorts were accused of establishing a scheme to recruit rice farmers and organize them “for the purpose of acquiring substantial allocations on the Private Sector Financed Importation Tax Expenditure Subsidy importation program with the end goal of monopolizing the supply of rice.”
In 2014, the Senate initiated a probe on rice smuggling and the existence of a grains cartel that focused on Bangayan whose operations were based in Mindanao.
The Justice secretary then was De Lima who did not even hide the fact that she was coddling Bangayan.
Prior to the 2016 polls, the outgoing Justice secretary returned the smuggling case against Bangayan to the NBI in an obvious move to shelve it.
De Lima’s excuse was that it was returned to the NBI to allow investigators to gather more evidence against Bangayan.
“We have to make sure it meets the probable cause threshold. When we evaluated Bangayan’s case, it was still not enough,” she said then, referring to the evidence.
Most officials, businessmen and even rice retailers in Mindanao knew who the rice smuggling king was yet De Lima pretended to have had a hard time in pinning down his true identity.
Bangayan was too cocky, knowing that he had his back covered, when he appeared before the Senate hearing earning senators’ displeasure that resulted in his overnight detention.
The NBI, an agency under the Department of Justice, ordered Bangayan’s arrest only after evidence was presented before the Senate Committee on Agriculture of a previous libel case involving Bangayan, obtained by then Senate Minority Leader Juan Ponce Enrile, against businessman Jess Arranza, wherein he admitted that he was also David Tan.
Prior to Bangayan’s appearance before the Senate, he met with De Lima to deny that he is David Tan.
His first NBI arrest papers even bore the clarification “Davidson Bangayan who is not David Tan” even as it was too easy to get a Mindanao businessman who wanted an end to the rice smuggling trade in Mindanao as witness in identifying David Tan as Bangayan.
Arranza even offered to provide the NBI all the proof it needed, short of a DNA sample, to match David Tan with Bangayan.
President Rody Duterte, then Davao City mayor, was among those who vouched for the identity of Bangayan and Tan as the same person.
The NBI then released Bangayan for the absurd reason that it cannot establish the true identity of Tan and shortly after ordered his release.
An infuriated Rody then demanded the resignation of De Lima for releasing Bangayan.
The administration of Noynoy, in effect, tolerated Bangayan since De Lima dragged her feet in prosecuting the rice smuggling kingpin.
In contrast, the cases against political opponents of Noynoy went like a breeze through De Lima and were filed immediately with the courts.
When asked about the NBI’s diffidence on Bangayan, De Lima said the NBI, which is under her office, was still building up a case.
Senators then even had to persuade the NBI to rearrest Bangayan after releasing him.
The NBI, which supposedly lacked information on Bangayan, was able to rearrest him only with an electricity theft case filed by the Manila Electric Co.
Meralco was able to pin down Bangayan and Tan to be the same individual when the NBI could not despite the huge fund from the budget allotted for the agency’s intelligence work.
Like shabu manufacturing, smuggling was rampant during the term of Noynoy, particularly near an election year, the reason for which is self-explanatory.