Alcala urged to take leave while NBI probes cartel
MANILA, Philippines–A lawmaker has urged Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala to take a leave of absence while the National Bureau of Investigation completes its probe into his alleged role in the emergence of a garlic and onion cartel under his watch.
“Secretary Alcala should face a thorough probe by the NBI since his being linked to the garlic cartel is a very serious allegation that must be investigated to the fullest,” said Valenzuela Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian of the Nationalist People’s Coalition.
“Secretary Alcala should not wear thin his friendship and influence with President Aquino. It’s about time that he insulates the Chief Executive by taking a leave of absence until he is finally cleared by the NBI. He should do a Secretary Ona,” Gatchalian said.
Gatchalian was referring to Health Secretary Enrique Ona who resigned recently after being accused of irregularities in the testing of an antidengue drug.
Whistle-blower Elizabeth “Lilybeth” Valenzuela, a garlic importer, said former Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Director Clarito Barron had told importers that they must have Alcala’s blessings to be issued import permits.
Valenzuela accused Lilia Matabang Cruz, alias Leah Cruz, of being the Department of Agriculture’s (DA’s) favored importer. Cruz is president of the Vegetables Importers Exporters and Vendors Association of the Philippines, which cornered 2,469 import permits for garlic from 2010 to 2014, or 67 percent of the 3,652 permits that were issued by the BPI.
“Is Leah Cruz that influential in the agriculture department that she practically corners the bulk of import permits,” said Gatchalian. “There is a preponderance of circumstantial evidence pointing to Secretary Alcala’s possible link to the garlic racket which should be reason enough for him to take a leave of absence pending results of the NBI probe.”
Gatchalian also questioned why Alcala had used his office to harbor relatives and appointees who had been kicked out of office under a cloud.
A DA source, who requested anonymity for lack of authority to speak for the agency, said that shortly after Barron was fired in July last year, Alcala appointed him as a technical assistant. The DA source said Barron was a relative of Alcala’s wife.
Barron was sacked following a public outcry against a spike in garlic prices after the supply was manipulated by a cartel allegedly condoned and endorsed by Alcala.
The DA source said this was the same case with former National Food Authority Administrator Orlan Calayag and his special assistant, Dennis Guerrero, who resigned in August last year amid charges of rice overpricing and granting a P1 billion cargo-handling contract without a bidding.
The DA source said Calayag was appointed assistant secretary while Guerrero was retained as Alcala’s chief of staff.
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