WERE the 420,000 sacks of Indian rice “originally intended for Indonesia” but “only temporarily warehoused in the Subic Freeport for transshipment to a final buyer,” as claimed by Amira C Foods, DMCC (Inquirer, 8/13/12)? To answer the question here are the salient points to factor in:
1. The shipment was reportedly seized by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) in May 15, 2012, after President Aquino “tipped off” the BOC about it. The cargo was then auctioned off on Oct. 17, 2012, for P487.2 million (but under a trust or escrow arrangement) which translates to $565/ton, or $403/ton net of the 40-percent duty slapped on imports outside the 500,000 tons approved by the NFA Rice Council in March for 2012 importation.
The $403/ton-pricing approximates the $410/ton-price for India’s 25-percent brokens rice grade in October 2012, up from $379/ton and $395/ton in March and February, respectively, which rice classification accounts for nearly all of the Philippines’ historical rice procurement. Clearly, if the cargo were of the high-priced Basmati variety (of which Amira is noted for), proceeds could have more than doubled as the world price hovers at the $1,000/ton-level against the $400/ton of 25-percent brokens.
2. The diversion of the Vietnam-registered MV Vinalines Mighty from its original sea voyage destination (Jakarta) to Subic appears to be unwise if not costly, as Malaysia and Singapore are closer to Indonesia’s Tanjong Priok port than to Subic port. Besides, Amira maintains offices in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Moreover, in rice-importing countries west, northwest or south of Subic like Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and Brunei, the preference is for high-quality rice—not the kind that was on board Vinalines Mighty. Bangladesh, Iran or Iraq, possible alternate markets, are too far away from Subic, with the narrow Malacca Straits, the vast Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf to traverse. The Philippines in our view is the only logical market for the “Amira shipment.”
3. We agree that as a supplier of the “World Food Program,” an agency under the United Nations, Amira has a reputation and a franchise to protect. But Amira appears to be affiliated with Amira Nature Foods Limited (ANFI, whose shares of stocks are listed and traded in the New York Stock Exchange) and with the New Delhi-based Amira Foods India Limited with offices in the following countries: the United States (Amira Foods Inc.), the United Kingdom (Amira G Foods Ltd); Malaysia (Amira Foods Sdn. Bhd), Singapore (Amira Foods Pte Ltd) and the United Arab Emirates (Amira C Foods International DMCC).
Until the Department of Finance and the BOC disclose to the public the trust agreement in its entirety, and until the legal ownership of the rice shipment is settled, the Subic shipment will never be a closed case. And P-Noy, the top-ranked whistle-blower in this case, may not see the proceeds end up in government coffers during his six-year term. The proceeds could be a “milestone” in the nation’s struggle to stay on the “daang matuwid.”
—MANUEL Q. BONDAD,