The Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food has ordered Cesar Ramirez, a rice importer it had detained Wednesday for contempt, released.
In a statement, Senator Francis Pangilinan, committee chairman, said senators agreed that Ramirez's apologies for giving contradictory testimony in hearings on alleged rice smuggling in Subic Bay Freeport are enough for him to be sent home.
Ramirez explained he was rattled during questioning, which led to inconsistent statements.
"We considered his supplemental statements very carefully, and after conferring with the Senate President we agreed to grant the motion of Ramirez’s counsel to lift the Senate's citation of contempt," he said.
Senate committees holding hearings on rice smuggling cited Ramirez and Indian national Protik Guha cited for contempt for allegedly lying to senators. Ramirez had denied e-mailing Guha about 420,000 sacks that were seized in Subic for lacking documentation. Guha told senators however that Ramirez did communicate with him about the rice.
Ramirez, of the Federation of San Miguel Cooperatives and Robson Agri Ventures Corp, later admitted to contacting Guha.
Guha was also cited for contempt after he said rice was not meant for sale in the Philippines. Pangilinan said, however, that "there is no question that the seized rice being investigated in the Senate is meant to be sold in the local markets." Guha is in India and had been advised not to travel because of hypertension and vertigo.
Although the Senate has already ordered Ramirez released, it also issued this warning: "We will not hesitate to cite him again for contempt and detain him should he fail to testify with straightforwardness and truth in the hearings. The penalties could be more severe the next time around."
The Senate is also investigating how 90 container vans of rice from Vietnam declared as construction materials were allowed into Subic.