DOJ forms body to probe garlic stink
MANILA, Philippines–The Department of Justice (DOJ) has created a three-member panel of prosecutors to conduct the preliminary investigation of more than 100 people, including government officials, alleged to have been behind the unjustified and unusual increase in the price of garlic last year.
Prosecutor General Claro Arellano said the panel is composed of Assistant State Prosecutor Ramon Chito Mendoza and lawyers Christine Fatima Estepa and Agnes Bagaforo-Arellano.
The National Bureau of Investigation earlier filed complaints against the suspects of profiteering, direct bribery and violation of the Price Act, monopolies and restraint of trade under the Revised Penal Code, obstruction of justice and the use of fictitious names.
Among them are former Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Director Clarito Barron; former BPI-Plant Quarantine Service chief Luben Marasigan; his successor, officer in charge Merle Palacpac; and businesswoman Lilia Cruz alias “Lea Cruz,” the head of the Vegetables Importers, Exporters and Vendors Association of the Philippines Inc.
The NBI said Cruz cornered about 75 percent of garlic importation in the country using dummies and farmers’ cooperatives and associations to get the necessary import permits from the BPI.
Barron was charged with direct bribery, graft and obstruction of justice after Lilibeth Valenzuela, the president of the Philippine Vegetable Importers and Exporters Inc. (PVIEI) claimed to have given him P240,000 in exchange for the issuance of four import permits for garlic.
In a statement, however, Barron said Valenzuela’s accusations were baseless and claimed that she was merely trying to get back at him for failing to get clearance for her importation of fruits and vegetables.
The BPI chief said Valenzuela was not an accredited importer but a mere broker of importers, and that PVIEI is was not accredited by the BPI as a garlic importer.
The price of garlic was also beyond the BPI’s control because after the agency issues its quarantine clearance to importers, the Bureau of Customs steps in to determine whether all documents are complete, Barron added.
Last September, the DOJ’s Office for Competition (OFC) released a report on the alleged cartel behind the increase in garlic prices in the domestic market despite the fact that there had been no shortage of the commodity.
Using the OFC report, the NBI came out with a list of 127 people that it recommended should be charged for colluding to unjustly increase the price of garlic.
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