Ombudsman to sue ex-DA chief, 23 others for alleged garlic cartel

MANILA Former Agricultural Secretary Proceso Alcala and 23 others will be facing graft charges before the Sandiganbayan after the Office of the Ombudsman has found probable cause to sue them for the alleged garlic cartel which controlled garlic importation and pushed garlic prices to the roof.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the Ombudsman said that aside from Alcala, also facing charges are Bureau of Plant Industry Director Clarito Barron, BPI Division Chiefs Merle Palacpac and Luben Marasigan, and garlic traders Lilia Lea Cruz, Edmond Caguinguin, Rolan Galvez, Rochelle Diaz, Ma. Jackilou Ilagan, Jon Dino De Vera, Napoleon Baldueza, Jose Ollegue, Laila Matabang, Angelita Flores, Gaudioso Diato, Denia Matabang, Jose Angulo, Jr., Raffy Torres, Mary Grace Sebastian, Renato Francisco, Rolando Manangan, Orestes Salon, Prudencio Ruedas and Shiela Marry Dela Cruz.

During the investigation, the Ombudsman discovered that from 2010 to 2014, a total of 8,810 import permits (IPs) were issued and approved by Alcala, Barron, Palacpac and Marasigan.

Out of 8,810 IPs, 5,022 IPs were cornered by importers and affiliates of the Vendors Association of the Philippines, Inc. (VIEVA) chaired by Cruz.

Records showed that on July 24, 2013, Alcala designated Cruz as chairperson of the National Garlic Action Team (NGAT), serving as the DA's consultative body on policies and concerns of the garlic production and supply program.

Cruz also acted as representative of the garlic importers, assisting them in the processing of applications and issuance of IPs.

Probers also discovered that Alcala and other DA officials approved the IPs despite an existing order suspending the issuance of IPs.

On Aug. 22, 2013, the NGAT issued Resolution No. 1 Series of 2013, recommending the non-issuance of garlic IPs finding that the supply was sufficient to last until the next harvest season of March 2014.

However, on Nov. 5, 2013, the NGAT issued Resolution No. 2 Series of 2013, declaring an insufficiency in the country's garlic supply as of Oct. 25, 2013 and recommended the importation of 58,240 metric tons of garlic via the issuance of IPs to be allocated to farmer cooperatives (70%) and legitimate garlic importers (30%).

In its resolution dated April 20, 2018, the Ombudsman said NGAT's resolution that 70% of the IPs would be allocated to farmer cooperatives was actually a scheme designated for Cruz to control the garlic importation. It bears emphasis that after Cruz established VIEVA, she caused the affiliation of farmer cooperatives and associations under its umbrella on the pretext of helping them financially."

"By adopting the scheme, Cruz practically controlled a big chunk of the 100% of the IPs for imported garlic. The 30% of the IPs supposedly allocated to legitimate garlic importers was given mostly to VIEVA and its affiliated importers. On the other hand, the 70% of IP allocation for the farmer cooperatives was mainly captured by Cruz through VIEVA-affiliated farmer groups," the anti graft court resolution said.

It added the scheme enabled VIEVA to monopolize the garlic supply, allowing it to dictate its market prices. [From] January to July 2014, the extraordinary and alarming spike in the prices of imported and locally produced (native) garlic was strongly felt by the public especially in the month of June 2014. The price of imported garlic soared, ranging from PHP260 to PHP400 per kg. from its average price of PHP165.-PHP170 per kg. in calendar year 2010-2013; while the price of native garlic varied from PHP2500-PHP400 per kg. in April to June 2014.

Source: Philippine News Agency

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