AGRICULTURE Secretary Arthur Yap today announced that he was leaving government so that he could clear his name in the P4-million tax evasion case filed against him by the Bureau of Internal Revenue. Yap said in a news conference today that the tax case would make him more a liability than an asset to President Gloria Arroyo, at a time when she was facing a crisis of her own.
"Last night, I had a heart-to-heart talk with the President and I explained that under the current circumstances, I will be ineffective as a secretary….This is a personal decision between the President and myself, ” Yap said.
Could there be more to Yap’s resignation than just the tax evasion charges?
Yap happens to be very close to Gloria and Mike Arroyo. He was her student in economics at the Ateneo, and is said to be one of Mike’s close friends. Yap is reportedly part of the First Gentleman’s circle of amigos that include:
- former DA Undersecretary and now Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) director Jocelyn Bolante
- Pagcor chair Ephraim Genuino
- former NAIA General Manager and now Laguna Lake Development Authority Administrator (LLDA) Edgar Manda
That he announced his decision to leave the day after the First Gentleman’s own exit was made public could be mere coincidence. But his resignation will leave many questions hanging.
Anomalies and Irregularities
Before Yap’s appointment at the DA, he was first chief executive officer of Philippine International Trading Corporation (PITC), an agency described as the trading arm of the government, during the term of President Joseph Estrada. It assisted in imports and exports, and was then under the Department of Trade and Industry. There were reports of rampant rice smuggling at that time.
When Arroyo became President in 2001, she chose not only to retain Yap, but moved him to the National Food Authority, the agency under the DA that in charge of securing the country’s rice supply.
In February 2003, Rep. Carlos Padilla sought Yap’s resignation after the NFA procured some 600,000 tons of rice worth P9.5 billion from India that was allegedly “unfit for human consumption.” Yap had then denied the charges but admitted that a portion of the shipment was found to be of poor quality and that the NFA was to be reimbursed for that.
Conflict of Interest
Despite these reports, President Arroyo promoted Yap first to Undersecretary for Luzon and then eventually to Secretary of Agriculture in 2004. More questions were raised, among these the issue of conflict of interest. Yap is married to Carol Gaw, whose family owns the Uniwide chain. As Secretary of Agriculture, Yap held power over a vast network of food-related agencies that dealt with the country’s supermarket chains, among them the Uniwide stores.
Cases before the Ombudsman
Yap is also currently facing graft and corruption charges stemming from the P432-million deal to procure fertilizers through a negotiated bidding. The contract was signed by Yap as then NFA Adminsitrator in 2003, reportedly on the urging of former Secretary Luis Lorenzo. At the time, employees of the DA sought an investigation into the issue, reportedly because the government was placed at a disadvantage, when the NFA bought fertilizers at the cost of P500/bag when the going rate was only P400. The militant Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas has accused the Arroyo government of using the funds from that deal for the 2004 elections.
The case of graft and corruption against Yap and company before the Ombudsman was filed by the Marlene Garcia-Esperat, former action officer of the DA-Ombudsman, who was murdered in her home last March.