by Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com
THE Department of Justice (DOJ) Tuesday created its own Anti-Rice Hoarding Task Force (ARHTF) to assist the National Food Authority (NFA) in going after rice hoarders and those engaged in overpricing and other related crimes.
Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez named Senior State Prosecutor Roberto A. Lao as chairman of the task force with Prosecuting Attorney Rhodora Salazar, State Prosecutors Nestor Lazara, Philip de la Cruz and Romeo Galvez as members.
In an interview, Gonzalez said the creation of the task force is in line with the need to speedily institute measures to stop and prevent rice hoarding and related crimes which can be considered acts of economic sabotage.
He said the task force will handle inquest proceedings, preliminary investigation and prosecution of all cases relating to unlawful acts or omissions inimical to the preservation and protection of the country’s rice supply under Section 29 of Presidential Decree No. 4 as amended, as well as the provision of other penal statutes and related laws.”
On the other hand, the justice secretary said the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) will render the appropriate resource and groundwork assistance to the ARHTF.
“The ARHTF is likewise hereby authorized to directly coordinate and seek the assistance of other law enforcement and administrative agencies for purposes of facilitating the investigation, resolution, and prosecution of the such cases,” the memorandum stated.
In connection with this, Gonzalez has already directed the task force to verify reports that the NFA in Central Visayas has suspended the rice allocation of 21 accredited retailers in Cebu province found to have committed violations in the distribution and sale of government rice, such as overpricing, unreasonable depletion of stocks, non-display and refusal to sell stocks to consumers.
The DOJ chief also asked the ARHTF to summon personalities involved in the raid on the Inter-City Industrial Estate at Bocaue, Bulacan which houses some 115 warehouses, each containing 25,000 to 40,000 sacks of rice.
The area purportedly supplies 65 percent of the country’s rice demand.
“In this connection, you are hereby directed to look into and summon all the personalities mentioned in the said news article and, if warranted, conduct proper preliminary investigation proceedings thereon preparatory to the filing of the appropriate information in court, subject to existing rules on criminal procedure,” the justice secretary said.
Meanwhile, Gonzalez brushed off claims made by leftist groups claiming that the government is the one hoarding the country’s rice supply.
”Why would the government hoard when we are buying 1.5 million tons of rice from Vietnam and negotiating with Thailand to buy more?” Gonzalez added.
He also said that to insure that rice supplies would come to their target clients without delay, Gonzalez said that the Army through the orders of the Department of National Defense (DND) has already agreed to loan the NFA some 200 trucks to assist and facilitate delivery.