Alcala must name, sue rice cartelists

Published by rudy Date posted on April 15, 2011

Ten years ago Jacky Rowena Tiu was kidnapped for ransom at gunpoint in La Union. Most Chinese-Filipino victims would quietly restart normal lives after such trauma. But not Jacky. Then in her 20s, she bore the emotional drain of trial and threats to family security to prosecute her tormentors. To this day, however, justice has eluded her.

Jacky’s rescue resulted from superb police work. While her parents protracted ransom negotiations with the abductors, cops tracked the hideout in Cavite and the mastermind in Manila. The drop was made, the criminals, all Chinese aliens, collared in a hotel room divvying up the loot, and the P10-million ransom recovered intact and returned to the Tius.

The judicial aftermath hasn’t been as smooth. Despite the group arrest and Jacky’s positive identification, the charge against one of the seven principals was downgraded to mere accessory. Apparently the La Union prosecutor had given in to persistent intercessions on the felon’s behalf by a high Chinese embassy officer. The first judge then showed bias, answering for the accused and coaching the defense to object to questions. The case was moved to Manila, where nine more judges took turns handling it. Some inhibited at first, then changed their minds and set hearings; others retired midway into the trial. At one point, the indictees sent word to Jacky from detention that they’d pay her P5 million or P8 million, up to P10 million, to back down; she refused. At dawn one weekend in 2006 the downgraded accessory was sneaked out of jail, escorted to the airport, and deported — set loose — to China. No official report came out of an inquiry into the supposed fake release and deportation papers. The kidnapping case is now in the hands of a tenth judge who never heard it, having only inherited it in 2009 from two who had recused and one who retired. This last judge too has filed for early retirement, and so must rush the verdicts on dozens of other pending cases.

Jacky wonders if she’ll at last get justice. Meanwhile, she has received threatening text messages on her mobile about the indictees taking revenge and suing her family for moral damages.

* * *

The National Intelligence Coordinating Agency has denied sending a top-secret warning Malacañang about a looming rice shortage. President Noynoy Aquino himself clarifies that the leaked report was about a world food crisis in general, as forecast in the media by experts. And National Food Authority administrator Lito Banayo quotes official figures.

The Bureau of Agricultural Statistics, Banayo says, projects a harvest shortfall of only 1.1 to 1.5 million tons, instead of the previous 1.8 to 2.3 million. The latest harvest has been good, and the weather cooperative and pests controlled so far. So Banayo says the country would be safe importing an additional 300,000 tons. This would be on top of the 200,000 that his NFA initially purchased from Vietnam, and the 660,000 to be brought in by traders and cooperatives. Total imports of 1.16 million tons would be enough, even with the usual destructive typhoons in the second half of the year.

Still, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala left something hanging. After lambasting the NICA for the alarming item and the agency denied being the source, he muttered something about a “rice cartel.” Allegedly a cabal of big-time importers-traders is stampeding the government into buying more rice. The extra imports would fatten their wallets but saddle rice farmers with low prices due to oversupply.

Who these rice cartelists are, Alcala must identify and charge with economic sabotage. Cartelists are profiteers who fix industry prices by manipulating the supply of goods. It is a cabinet member’s duty to enforce the law, and protect the interests of producers and consumers. Alcala cannot drop the issue just like that – blaming cartelists, then leaving the public guessing who and where such economic predators are.

Meanwhile, Alcala as NFA chairman and Banayo as administrator must agree whether and when to import an additional 300,000-ton buffer. It must be done soon, before Vietnam and Thailand rates kick up. Quietly Malaysia, Indonesia and Bangladesh are importing, due to worldwide jitters of grain, livestock and dairy scarcity. India is hoarding its excess harvest, instead of trading globally. When China, whose wheat lands were ruined first by frost then by drought, shifts to rice and joins the buying frenzy, there won’t be any stocks left for recurrently short Philippines.

Alcala trains his sights on rice self-sufficiency. He is promoting to farmers newer higher-yield seeds, while appealing to consumers to shift diets. Double-the-harvest varieties require more upfront capital and farmhands, however. Consumers haven’t quite accepted that cassava not only is more nutritious, but also requires less time and water to grow, even in backyards. –Jarius Bondoc (The Philippine Star)

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