GMA pushes speedy justice vs rice hoarders

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo almost blew her top as she pushed for speedier prosecution against rice hoarders and unscrupulous rice traders and retailers during her third visit to the Department of Justice (DOJ) amid the looming rice crisis.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez noted that the President raised her voice at one point during the briefing, pointing out that she only wanted to clarify several instructions by Agriculture chief Arthur Yap especially among those arrested with unmilled rice.

Gonzalez said that the President wanted to prioritize on those rice traders who are operating without license.

The President arrived at the DOJ office in Manila at about 10 a.m. yesterday and immediately proceeded to the room where the preliminary investigation against 13 businessmen was being conducted.

The President told reporters that she just went there “to observe to make sure things go fast.”

A visibly crabby President stayed on, and observed the proceedings.

Gonzalez said that the President’s presence in the preliminary investigation is aimed to put pressure on the prosecution of suspected rice hoarders and illegal rice traders.

He said the President did not instruct them to bypass the rule of law, pointing out the decision on the case will still depend on the evidence presented to the prosecutors.

The rice traders and retailers were not irritated either with the President’s presence but insisted on their innocence and claimed they did not hoard nor diverted rice from the National Food Authority.

Gonzalez said that four of the latest complaints have been filed already against rice traders from Camarines Sur and Camarines Norte.

The DOJ top official said that the President really wanted people to be prosecuted because of rice hoarding.

The President vowed to return anew on Thursday next week to follow up on the cases in connection with the deadline for the submission of the respondents for them to submit their counter affidavits.

The President also wanted that an NFA official linked with rice diversion be charged not only with administrative but also criminal raps.

Last Wednesday, the President made another surprise visit to the National Bureau of Investigation office on Taft Avenue and arrived there at about 1 p.m. to personally follow up on the progress of the case filed against rice traders.

It was the third surprise visit at the NBI in a span of three weeks.

During the visit, the President berated officials of the DOJ and the NBI over the slow pace of prosecution of suspected rice hoarders.

NBI chief Nestor Mantaring said that 33 have already been charged by the NBI NFA Anti Rice Hoarding Task Force.

Fourteen were found guilty for diverting rice into commercial rice.