DA to suspend 55 garlic importers
On the prodding of a senator yesterday, Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said he would order the temporary ban on the garlic imports of 55 traders named in a Department of Justice (DOJ) report as having links to the garlic cartel operating in the country.
At a hearing, Sen. Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, questioned officials of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) why these garlic importers continued to be on their list of accredited importers when a DOJ report in 2014 had identified them as cartel operators.
The report was released following a Senate investigation on garlic cartels in 2014 after prices more than doubled to P300 despite the absence of a shortage in the market.
“Is the report not enough to remove the names in your list of traders you give import permits to?” asked Villar at the second hearing of an inquiry on the sudden spike in garlic prices from P140 to P200 per kilo in May this year.
The report by the DOJ-Office for Competition (OFC) also described the modus operandi of the cartel, which it said controlled 75 percent of the country’s garlic supply.
It listed 55 affiliated garlic importers supposedly controlled by four players, one of which was alleged onion and garlic cartel leader, Leah Cruz.
The report identified 24 importers affiliated to Cruz, of which five continued to receive import permits in the last three years, said Villar. These importers were Philippine Vieva Group of Companies, Bee Jee Trading, Vieva, Purple Moon Trading and RM Galvez.
“These importers should already be blacklisted,” the senator told Piñol.
She also wondered why the DOJ was taking so long to file charges against these importers. “The DOJ report said there is a garlic cartel, but three years after it has not made any move yet,” noted Villar.
Assistant Justice Secretary George Ortha II yesterday told the committee that the DOJ-OFC had forwarded the 2014 fact-finding report to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) for further investigation.
Subsequently, the NBI filed a complaint in the DOJ’s National Prosecution Service, where the case is still pending, Ortha said.
Piñol yesterday said he would ban these importers following Villar’s advice. “I will talk to the lawyers of the department and we will issue a temporary order because we cannot permanently ban them unless there is a valid legal ground,” he told reporters after the three-hour hearing.
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