Filed by the Office of the Ombudsman on March 15, the case involves violation of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, a provision which prohibits a public official from giving unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference to a private party, or from causing any party, including the government, undue injury.
Boy Santos/File
Ex-DA chief, 23 others charged over garlic cartel
Elizabeth Marcelo (The Philippine Star) - March 26, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Former agriculture secretary Proceso Alcala and 23 other former officials and private individuals have been indicted before the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan in connection with the alleged monopolization of garlic importation and supply in 2014, which caused a spike in prices in the market.

Filed by the Office of the Ombudsman on March 15, the case involves violation of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, a provision which prohibits a public official from giving unwarranted benefit, advantage or preference to a private party, or from causing any party, including the government, undue injury.

Named as Alcala’s co-accused in the case were former Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) director Clarito Barron and former BPI National Quarantine Services Division chiefs Luben Marasigan and Merle Palacpac.

Also charged were private trader Lilia Cruz also known as Lea Cruz, chair and controlling owner of Vegetable Importers, Exporters, Vendors Association of the Philippines (VIEVA), as well as other garlic traders also members of the VIEVA board of directors: Edmond Caguinguin, Rolan Galvez, Rochelle Diaz, Ma. Jackilou Ilagan, Jon Dino de Vera, Napoleon Baldueza, Jose Ollegue, Laila Matabang, Angelita Flores, Gaudioso Diato, Denia Matabang, Jose Angulo Jr., Raffy Torres, Mary Grace Sebastian and Renato Francisco Jr.

Likewise charged were officials of agricultural cooperatives, namely Rolando Manangan, owner of the Kapisanan ng Mga Magsisibuyas ng Nueva Ecija; Orestes Salon, owner of the Kooperatiba ng Bayang Sagana; Prudencio Ruedas, chairman of Mindoro Allium Growers Multi-Purpose Cooperative; and Shiela Marry dela Cruz, owner of Shelamarie Enterprises.

Based on the charge sheet prepared by the ombudsman’s graft investigation and prosecution officer Bonifacio Mandrilla, Alcala conspired with the then BPI officials and with Cruz in monopolizing the importation as well as the supply of garlic in 2014, allowing the latter to dictate market prices.

The ombudsman said that on July 24, 2013, Alcala named Cruz as the chairman of the National Garlic Action Team (NGAT), the Department of Agriculture (DA)’s consultative body on policies concerning garlic importation and supplies.

The ombudsman said this enabled Cruz to gain access to vital information, which paved the way for VIEVA-affiliated trading firms and cooperatives to secure a majority of the import permits (IPs) granted by the DA for importation of a total 58,240 metric tons of garlic aimed at meeting the market requirement for November 2013 to March 2014.

The ombudsman said that of the total of 8,810 IPs issued by the DA, 5,022 were secured by VIEVA and affiliate importers.

Furthermore, the ombudsman said most of the IPs were issued at the time when the DA’s garlic importation ban was still in effect from July 2012 to October 2013.

The ombudsman said VIEVA’s monopolization of garlic importation resulted in the surge of the price of imported garlic to P260-P400 per kilogram in January-July 2014 from its previous price of P165-P170 per kilogram in 2010-2013.

The ombudsman said the price of native garlic also increased to P250-P450 per kilogram in April-June 2014.

The ombudsman recommended to the Sandiganbayan to set the respondents’ bail bond at P30,000 each.

The ombudsman listed as its initial witnesses in the case members of the team that conducted a probe on the so-called garlic cartel scam, namely Ombudsman Field Investigation Office (FIO) officers Paul Francis Abara, Albert Leynes, Teodorica Avino, Maria Karen Veloso and Ronald Allan Ramos.

It was in April 2018 when then ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales ordered the filing of a graft case at the Sandiganbayan against Alcala and the garlic traders.

The ombudsman noted that the NGAT on Aug. 22, 2013 issued a resolution recommending the non-issuance of garlic IPs, stating that the supply was sufficient to last until the next harvest season of March 2014, only to reverse its recommendation through another resolution issued on Nov. 5, 2013.

In its second resolution, the NGAT declared insufficiency in the country’s garlic supply as of Oct. 25, 2013 and recommended the importation of 58,240 metric tons of garlic through the issuance of IPs to be allocated to farmer cooperatives (70 percent) and legitimate garlic importers (30 percent).

“The 30 percent of IPs supposedly allocated to legitimate garlic importers was given mostly to VIEVA and its affiliated importers. On the other hand, the 70 percent of the IP allocation for farmer cooperatives was mainly captured by Cruz through VIEVA-affiliated farmer groups,” the ombudsman said.

The ombudsman added that documents obtained by its investigators from the National Bureau of Investigation, Securities and Exchange Commission, Cooperative Development Authority, Department of Trade and Industry and National Statistics Office revealed the “close connection and relations between and among the VIEVA and VIEVA-affiliated importers.”

“Aside from interlocking incorporators, the importers have similar representatives, addresses, emails, phone numbers, company profiles, major suppliers, plant addresses and ports of registration, thus evidencing their common interest,” the ombudsman said.

GRAFT AND CORRUPTION PROCESO ALCALA
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