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Bacolod City, Philippines Wednesday, September 23, 2015
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I won't tolerate smuggling,
influence peddling: PNoy

President Benigno Aquino yesterday said smuggling and influence peddling is not okay, and will not be tolerated by his administration.

The president was reacting to reports that former Assistant Transportation Secretary Virginia Torres, one of his shooting buddies, showed up at the Customs-Intelligence Group (IG) office on Aug. 20 allegedly to negotiate for the release of at least 64 shipping containers of smuggled Thai sugar worth more than P100 million.

Torres allegedly dropped the name of President Aquino and suggested that the proceeds from the sale of the illegally imported sugar would be used in the 2016 elections.

“If our friendship is based on your ability to use me, then therefore we are not friends,” the President said in an interview on ABS-CBN.

But the president said if Torres, supposedly, is a sugar planter, it does not make sense that she would facilitate sugar smuggling as it would depress prices of the product she invested in.

Torres told the Manila media she went to the BOC in behalf of her friend Philip Sy, she was not aware that what he sought to be released was smuggled sugar, she was told it was general merchandize.

Sugar leaders in Negros Sunday asked the president to investigate the role of Torres in the smuggling incident. The Sugar Regulatory Administration Monday assured that the P100 million smuggled sugar is being investigated.

Manuel Lamata, president of the U nited Sugar Producers Federation of the Philippines, yesterday said “We are satisfied with the answer of the president saying anybody using my name for illegal activities is not his friend. This should be a stern warning to the smugglers not to bring in smuggled sugar. We want Torres' friend Phillip Sy put to jail as a sugar smuggler.”

Sen. Francis Escudero said, in a press statement yesterday, that the Bureau of Customs should file smuggling charges against Torres.

He said the BOC should send a strong message that the administration is serious in its bid to curb smuggling that even perceived administration allies will not be spared.

"Cases must be filed against her if, indeed, there's evidence to prove that she intervened or is trying to intervene in an illegal shipment," Escudero said.

The BOC should take the cue from Malacañang's pronouncement that influence peddling will not tolerated by the administration.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said on Sunday said that if there was proof that Torres committed such prohibited act, then it will be acted upon in accordance with the law.

"If the BOC is fascinated in looking into the measly 'padala' of our overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), then the more it should be interested in pursuing the people behind the importation of 64 shipping containers of smuggled sugar worth more than P100 million," said Escudero.

Senate Bill No. 118, which Escudero refiled in 2013, states that "It shall be unlawful for any person to engage in influence peddling or the act of representing oneself, either orally or in writing, as being able, whether real or imagined, to influence, facilitate or assist another person having some business, transaction, application, request or contract with the government in which a public official or employee has to intervene."

Escudero said, the government should train its sights on sugar smuggling rather than targeting the "balikbayan" boxes being sent by OFWs.*CPG



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