Gov’t officials, traders face raps for garlic price surge
Video by Noy Morcoso lll/INQUIRER.net
MANILA, Philippines -The National Bureau of Investigation on Wednesday filed a complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman against government officials and traders in connection with the alleged manipulation of the price of garlic in the local market last year.
The complaint was filed before the Office of the Ombudsman against 119 officials of the Bureau of Plant Industry, Department of Agriculture, National Garlic Action Team, and supposed “dummies” of importer Leah Cruz.
Facing cases for violation of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act are former BPI Director Clarito Barron, Merle Bautista Palacpac, the officer-in-charge of the Plant Quarantine Service and Luben Quijano Marasigan, the former chief of the Plant Quarantine Service of the BPI.
Investigation conducted by the NBI showed that the government official conspired with Vegetable Importers, Exporters, and Vendors Association of the Philippines (Vieva Philippines) and that their complementary acts brought about unreasonable increase in the price of garlic constituting cartel activity.
“A perusal of the documents obtained from BPI revealed that the Import Permits were issued only to either members of the Vieva or to entities affiliated with the same. Non-members or non-affiliated importers were seldom given the Import Permits, specifically for fresh garlic. The denial of the issuance of the Import Permits to non-Vieva members or affiliates were without sufficient reasons, despite full compliance of the applicants with the requirements set forth [under the law],” the complaint stated.
“Premises establish that subject officers and employees of BPI committed the acts penalized by Section 3(e) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act by willfully giving the importers under the Vieva Philippines headed by subject Lilia Matabang Cruz aka Leah Cruz unwarranted benefits, advantage, and preference in the performance of their function as the issuing authority of import permits and plant quarantine certificates,” the NBI said in its findings and recommendation.
“Likewise, the same subjects also violated Section 39j) of RA 3019 by knowingly approving or granting import permits and plant quarantine certificates in favor of some members of Vieva Philippines who are not qualified to be issued import permits and plant quarantine certificates,” it added.
Barron is facing a separate case for violation of Article 210 (Direct bribery) of the Revised Penal Code (RPC) for allegedly receiving P240, 000 from Lilybeth Valenzuela, president of Philippine Vegetable Importers and Exporters Incorporated (Vieva Philippines Incorporated) in consideration of the issuance of import permits for garlic.
Cruz was also included in the charges for violation of RA 3019 along with other importers and officials of farmers’ cooperatives. She is considered the “Janet Lim-Napoles” in the agriculture industry after bagging 75 percent of garlic importation in the country.
Cruz is also the subject of a House inquiry on an alleged scam within the garlic industry. Cruz is accused of operating a P200 million garlic and onion import scam by using dummy companies owned by her drivers, clerks and house helpers.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the NBI will file separate criminal charges on Thursday for violation of Republic Act 7581 (The Price Act), Article 186 of the RPC (Monopolies and combinations in restraint of trade), Article 178 of the RPC (Using fictitious names and concealing true names) and Presidential Decree 1829 (Penalizing obstruction of apprehension and prosecution of criminal offenders) against Cruz and other traders.