Ombudsman investigates Alcala for garlic cartel scam
MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman is investigating Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and several other Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) officials for their alleged involvement in the garlic cartel scam.
In a press statement, the Office of the Ombudsman said their Field Investigation Office (FIO) has filed a complaint-affidavit against Alcala and 4 BPI officials – former BPI director Clarito Barron, Quarantine Chief Merle Palacpac, Jesus Bajacan and former Quarantine chief Luben Marasigan. Included in the complaint are Lilia Cruz and the incorporators of the Vegetable Importers, Exporters and Vendors Association of the Philippines Inc (VIEVA).
Importer Lilia Cruz, also known as Leah Cruz, allegedly used dummies to collect multiple clearances, allowing her to corner a large chunk of the country's garlic supply.
The Ombudsman’s FIO said in its complaint that from January to July 2014, an “extraordinary and alarming spike in the prices of garlic as noted”, prompting the justice department to direct the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate possible “profiteering, hoarding and cartel-like activities.”
In a January 2015 transmittal letter, the National Bureau of Investigation said it found that VIEVA, a group of garlic traders and importers headed by Cruz monopolized the supply of garlic and dictated market prices. This was made possible by the participation of BPI officials who gave VIEVA and its affiliates numerous importation permits despite the absence of required accreditation.
The FIO also said that as agriculture secretary, Alcala had direct supervision over the functions of the BPI. His participation in the scheme was evident when he created the National Garlic Action Team (NGAT) that consisted mainly of “private stakeholders with an apparent interest in the garlic industry.”
The NGAT, multi-stakeholder body, was formed in 2012 to ensure stable garlic supply in the country.
Alcala and the BPI officials are being investigated for possible violation of the anti-graft and corrupt practices act. Along with Barron, Alcala also faces administrative charges for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
Barron in January 2015 denied allegations of bribery and colluding with members of a garlic cartel that allegedly caused garlic prices to more than double in 2014.
"We 3 swear that we never, during our service to the government, colluded with cartels. Truth be told, we didn't know there was a garlic cartel because nothing has reached my office as director," Barron said in Filipino during a press conference where he was joined by co-accused co-accused Palacpac and Marasigan.
In a January 8, 2015 press conference, Alcala said that BPI-issued permits are issued at the BPI director level and do not reach his office for approval.
In January 2016, Barron was also recommended for investigation by the FIO for graft and direct bribery. He was allegedly involved in the anomalous issuance of garlic import permits.
According to a witness who testified, a vegetable importer/exporter went to Barron’s office in July 2012 and paid P240,000 in exchange for the issuance of two import permits. He faces preliminary investigation for this.
Barron has been a Department of Agriculture employee for 33 years, rising from the ranks since his first job as a technical assistant in the crop protection division. – Rappler.com