By Ali G. Macabalang
Kidapawan City – President Rodrigo Duterte has ordered the relief of Land Transportation Office (LTO) and Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) officials allegedly involved in extortion activities at a government truck weighing station in Aritao, Nueva Viscaya, according to Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol.
The “angry President” issued the directive upon receiving complaints from rice industry stakeholders from Cagayan Valley Region at a forum in Malacañang on Thursday night, Piñol said in his “Kidapawen News around the World” Facebook page Friday morning.
In a phone call arranged by Special Assistant to the President Christopher “Bong” Go, the Chief Executive also asked Transportation Secretary Arturo Tugade to present to him in Malacañang the erring personnel.
“Bring them to me in Malacañang and I will squeeze their faces,” Piñol quoted the President as telling Tugade.
Tugade was reportedly undergoing hospital check-up at the time of the call, he said.
LTO and DPWH workers jointly run the Artitao station established more than 10 years ago to determine whether trucks passing the area are overloaded.
But the required weight tests were being allegedly abused by the workers by exacting P500 to P1,000 from each truck operator, rice traders reportedly informed the President.
More than 1,000 cargo trucks, mostly carrying rice and other agricultural commodities, go through the station daily, translating into an average of P500,000 to P1 million paid by operators who just wanted to avoid delay and inconvenience, Piñol said.
“Ang sipag-sipag po nila Mr. President. Maski holidays at maski noong Holy Week, naka-duty sila at wala kaming ligtas,” Piñol quoted the rice traders as complaining on Thursday’s forum.
Highway extortion activities result in higher prices of food commodities in the market because traders pass on the added cost to the consumers, Piñol said.
He said the traders claimed that the irregularity has been going on for over 10 years under past administrations “seemed helpless in stopping the extortion operations.”