Agri trader slams ‘false, baseless, unfounded’ accusations of onion, garlic smuggling
MANILA, Philippines —Lilia “Leah” Cruz, the target of multiple accusations of smuggling garlic and onion, vehemently denied all claims as “false, baseless and unfounded” in a hearing of the House committee on agriculture and food.
The hearing on Wednesday was focused on alleged hoarding and other forms of price manipulation of agricultural commodities, such as onion and garlic.
Cruz’s passionate defense of her innocence has left people questioning the truth about these accusations.
“I am so grateful to this honorable body for giving me this opportunity to be heard and to clear my name amidst all the false, baseless, and unfounded claims reported in the media of my alleged involvement in the smuggling of onions and garlic,” she said.
These allegations, according to Cruz, had been “unjustly tarnishing [her] name, honor, and reputation in the eyes of the public and adversely affecting [her] family.”
“Time and again, I have been implicated in the smuggling of onions and garlic yet time after time, my faceless accusers have yet to prove their allegations,” she said.
After being accused of wrongdoing by her accusers, Cruz demanded proof of their allegations. She called for them to provide sufficient evidence to back up their claims.
“I challenge whoever they are to muster enough courage to come up in the open instead of remaining anonymous, to show evidence of my complicity. Instead of feeding lies behind my back. Unless they take the challenge, all their claims should be taken with a grain of salt,” she argued.
Cavite 4th District Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. sought updates on Cruz’s case before the Ombudsman regarding “the importation of garlic and onion as early as 2014.”
“Naka-pending pa po kasi iyong kanilang mga pine-present na witness ay laging hindi available (It’s still pending, because the witnesses they were presenting are always unavailable),” Cruz answered.
Nueva Ecija 3rd District Rep. Ria Vergara also asked Cruz if she knew of a certain Jojo Celestino and Ariel Magsilang, who were allegedly the “front” of Cruz in buying massive volumes of onions in Nueva Ecija.
But Cruz said: “I am willing to face them kasi hindi ko sila kilala (because I do not know them).”
Barzaga asked the people Vergara mentioned subpoenaed and invited to the next scheduled hearing of the panel “in order to determine who is telling the truth.”
Cruz, Vieva in agri mess
Cruz, who introduced herself as an “agripreneur,” said the accusations lodged against her took a toll on the operations of her group, the Vegetable Importers, Exporters and Vendors Association of the Philippines Inc. (Vieva).
In January 2015, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) found that Cruz allegedly used “dummy entities” to secure multiple import permits from the Bureau of Plant Industry, allowing her to supposedly monopolize the country’s garlic supply and manipulate the prices of the agricultural commodity.
READ: Collusion and cartel caused high prices of garlic – NBI
The NBI further noted that then Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala purportedly gave 5,022 import permits to the Cruz-led Vieva.
But in 2019, Alcala pleaded not guilty in the graft case filed against him before the Sandiganbayan over his supposed involvement in the garlic cartel scam.
READ: Ex-DA secretary Alcala pleads not guilty in ‘garlic cartel’ graft case
Cruz’s name recently resurfaced in Senator Raffy Tulfo’s list of suspected agricultural smugglers in the country, which he revealed to the public in October 2022 along with the names of a certain Michael Yang, Andrew Chang, and Manuel Tan.
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