The recent brouhaha over the “arrest” of David Tan has caused confusion among government agencies and officials. They don’t seem to know what to do with a 33-year old man whose identity baffled Department of Justice (DOJ) bureaucrats and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) agents. And like a hot potato, the country’s top justice and law enforcement officials closed the investigation and set Tan free without further action.
The bizarre incident was the offshoot of allegations made by the Federation of Philippine Industries (FPI) chairman Jesus Arranza that a certain Davidson Bangayan alias “David Tan” was a major rice smuggler wanted by authorities. When Bangayan read news reports naming him as a “big-time rice smuggler,” he showed up at DOJ on January 14 and personally met with Justice Secretary Leila de Lima. He denied that he was the “David Tan” accused of being a major rice smuggler.
With the ease by which Bangayan accessed de Lima – presumably without an appointment – it makes one wonder what kind of connections Bangayan used to open doors to DOJ’s top honcho?
Accompanied by his lawyer, Bangayan told de Lima that he was not engaged in “major rice importation” as reported in the news and that his rice business was “not that big.” De Lima took Bangayan’s explanation hook, line, and sinker and told reporters that since Bangayan’s rice business was “not that big,” he couldn’t be the big-time smuggler he was accused of. When Bangayan offered to cooperate, de Lima referred him to the NBI.
But when Bangayan showed up at the NBI, an arrest warrant against “David Tan” was served on him. After a cursory investigation, the NBI concluded that Bangayan was not the David Tan wanted by a Caloocan City court for electricity pilferage, so Bangayan was released.
But NBI Deputy Director Virgilio Mendez contradicted the findings and insisted that they have “evidence and witnesses to prove that” Bangayan and Tan are one and the same person. NBI records showed that Bangayan and Tan have the same address. Why then did the lower-ranked investigators let him go? Could it be that there was someone higher and powerful who interceded for Bangayan?
What is strange is the manner the arrest warrant was written, to wit: “You are hereby commanded to arrest the person/s who is/are to be found at the address/es indicated below: Rose Tan, who is not Rosalind Galicia; David Tan, who is not Davidson Bangayan; and Benson Tan alias Mr. Kiao, who is not Venson Bangayan Bangayan – All Advance Metal Traiding (sic), Blk.5. Lot 1, ACCO Homes Langaray St., cor. Dagat-Dagatan Avenue, Caloocan City.” It seemingly shields Davidson Bangayan, Rosalind Galicia, and Venson Bangayan from arrest.
The fact that Bangayan carries a valid Philippine passport (issued on May 18, 2011) supports the presumption that Bangayan is the real McCoy. If so, who then is David Tan?
On January 22, Sen. Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the Senate committee on agriculture, said her committee has documents that prove Davidson Bangayan and “smuggling king” David Tan are the same person. She said de Lima and Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile submitted documents that proved it. She also said that rice smugglers couldn’t operate without the help of corrupt government officials… or, I might add, powerful and influential private individuals.
On January 28, Customs Deputy Commissioner Agaton Teodoro Uvero dropped a bombshell at the Senate hearing. He said that at the height of the rice smuggling, they were bringing in 2,000 containers week, which translates to 50,000 tons a week at 25 tons per 20-foot shipping container. These huge shipments of smuggled rice won’t be able to get past Customs inspection without the collusion of Customs officials.
Last February 3, Mayor Rodrigo Duterte testified before the Senate committee what he knows about David Tan. He said that Tan is the central figure in rice smuggling in the country. He is the go-to guy for farmer cooperatives who go to him for help in importation and financing because they don’t have the capacity to import rice. He said that Tan would provide import permits to rice importers who would re-use them many times over because corrupt Customs inspectors do not stamp them. He said that rice smuggling without the connivance of Customs and National Food Authority (NFA) personnel would be very hard, if not impossible.
When a senator asked Mayor Duterte if he knew how Tan looks like, he produced a photo of Tan that he claimed was given to him by the police. When he was asked if the person on the photo was the same person as Davidson Bangayan, who was seated nearby, he pointed at Bangayan and answered in the affirmative. Right after Duterte fingered Bangayan, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile made a motion to cite Bangayan for contempt for lying to the Senate committee denying that he was David Tan. Sen. Enrile showed an affidavit executed by Bangayan in a 2005 libel case in which he referred to himself as “David Tan,” the alleged rice smuggling king. Sen. Villar said that the committee would decide on the motion in the next committee meeting.
With Enrile’s revelation, one wonders how did Bangayan become the “rice smuggling king” that controls the importation and financing of rice in the entire country? And how could a 33-year old person who started his rice importation business only in 2011 manage to dominate and control rice smuggling in just two years? Could it be that he is just the front man or “dummy” of a rice smuggling syndicate?
In a Manila Times article titled, “Just stick to govt sufficiency program,” published on September 12, 2013, it said: “A certain A. Yang and Alex S reportedly act as contacts of the group inside the Bureau of Customs (BOC) who are responsible for facilitating the “necessary” documentary requirements of the smuggled rice.
“Agents who were involved in the operations but who requested anonymity revealed that prior to the raid, a meeting was held on August 11 in an undisclosed place among several key figures behind the botched P15-billion smuggle attempt.
“They identified the personalities as a very high official of the BOC, and a few other private businessmen, including a certain Eldon Cruz. It is not yet clear if Cruz is the “presidential brother-in-law” or husband of Aquino’s sister Ballsy.”
What was Eldon Cruz – if he was indeed the presidential brother-in-law – doing with the smuggling ring? Is he the protector of the “smuggling king”? If so, then that would explain why Bangayan was accorded “VIP treatment” at DOJ and expeditiously released without any hassle, which makes one wonder: is Davidson Bangayan untouchable?