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Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol (left) hands the bank waiver to PACC Chairman Dante Jimenez in a precedent-setting act for key public officials. (ALLEN CID)

Lifestyle probe on Piñol

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol volunteers to undergo a lifestyle check to clear his name amid what he claims as “orchestrated” insinuations of his involvement in anomalous rice importation transactions.

In a rare reaction by a high public official to publicized insinuation or imputation of corruption, Sec. Piñol personally handed to Chairman Dante Jimenez of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) last Thursday a letter of the same date with an attached signed waiver authorizing the anti-graft body to have full access to all the former’s bank accounts.

Speaking to media during the Kapihan sa Manila Hotel hosted by the Association of Philippine Journalists (Samahang Plaridel) where the Agri chief handed the waiver to the PACC head, Sec. Piñol said that publicised insinuations of his alleged involvement in rice importation anomalies came as an aftermath of the transfer of the National Food Authority to his Department.

The latest of such media stories was his alleged insistence during an NFA Council meeting that procurement of 203,000 metric tons of imported rice should be done through a government-to-government bidding transaction.

“Nothing could be farther from the truth and the members of the NFA Council can attestt that I merely preside as Chairman and all actions are results of collegial decisions,” Sec. Piñol quotes a part of his letter.

He adds that he has also limited rice classification to “regular, well-milled and premium” to put a stop to mislabeling of rice varieties to manipulate prices.

“When we took over the NFA, right away I implemented the suggested retail price (SRP) on rice which effectively stopped hoarding. Because of the SRP , even if you hoard the rice and sell it later, the price will remain the same,” he explains.

He believes that the rice cartel is behind the smear campaign against him for putting a stop to rice price manipulation.

“I hope that what I’m doing today will set a precedent for public officials like myself. Any question on our performance and actuation in public service, we should not be onioned-skinned because at the end of the day all our rhetorics will pale in comparison to rumors,” Sec. Piñol stresses.

Jiminez welcomes Piñol’s move, explaining that it serves as a challenge to all Cabinet members and all government officials to also submit themselves to lifestyle checks.

“This is a lesson for all of us so that from top to bottom, you submit yourself for scrutiny. That’s the only way you will establish leadership by example,” he adds.

During the same media forum, Jimenez said the PACC will conduct a fact-finding inquiry on the alleged cover-up in the smuggling of 1.6 tons of shabu that was spirited out of the Bureau of Customs (BOC). This came after the Senate Blue ribbon committee already cleared former BOC Commissioner Isidro Lapeña on the P11 billion drug scandal.

Jimenez said the investigation serves as clear proof that government is determined to stop the proliferation of illegal drugs in the country. “The commission is determined to put in jail those people behind the smuggling of shabu,” said PACC chairman.

Jimenez designated PACC commissioner Rickson Chiong, former deputy director of the National Bureau of Investigation, to head the investigating team.

“While the PACC respects the Senate committee’s decision, the commission has a mandate to seek and find out the truth behind the shabu mess,” Jimenez added.

Former Customs District Collector and shabu smuggling whistleblower Lourdes Mangaoang said Lapeña may be held liable for allegedly covering up the huge shabu shipment.

Lapeña was removed from the BOC and appointed Director-General of the Technical Skills and Development Authority (TESDA).

Jimenez expressed concern that the government’s illegal drugs campaign may be placed in jeopardy after the Senate committee headed by Sen. Richard Gordon cleared Lapeña of any responsibility in the drug scandal.

“We will never be intimidated by the Senate committee’s findings. The Senate hearing was conducted in aid of legislation but the PACC’s investigation is aided by the truth,” he said.

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