Duterte angered by 'missing' smuggled rice, orders probe

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 4) — President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered an investigation into the incident involving 23,015 sacks of smuggled rice that were seized but went missing in Zamboanga City.

"Nagalit talaga ang Presidente (The President got really angry) because how do you lose 23,000 sacks of rice? It's incredible," Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said in a Palace briefing Thursday.

He said a "visibly upset" Duterte ordered "an immediate and thorough investigation" of the matter.

Reports earlier quoted Lt. Commander Noriel Ramos, Zamboanga Coast Guard Station commander, as saying that the seized smuggled rice disappeared while in transit to their storage area. He said the sacks of rice were recovered in an anti-drug operation following reports illegal drugs shipment would arrive with the rice.

Authorities have recovered some 16,000 sacks of rice from different warehouses in Zamboanga City, but have to find at least 7,000 more.

Roque suspects both the National Food Authority and the Bureau of Customs were to blame for the incident.

"Investigation is ongoing but I think it's obvious that because both agencies had some jurisdiction over the apprehended smuggled rice na parehong opisyales ng (both officials of) Customs and NFA probably have liability for this," he said.

Zamboanga City District Collector Lyceo Martinez and Customs Police District Commander Felimeno Salazar have been relieved from their posts "for the purpose of ensuring that they cannot tamper with evidence and they cannot influence the investigation," Roque said. He said the preventive suspension was ordered by the President.