MANILA, Philippines – The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Wednesday, January 7, filed criminal complaints before the Office of the Ombudsman against 119 government officials and importers allegedly involved in a cartel that caused garlic prices to surge by up to 100% in June 2014.
The charges were filed a month after President Benigno Aquino III ordered the Department of Justice to build a case against individuals who colluded in manipulating garlic prices.
Among those who face charges for violating the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act are officials of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), the Department of Agriculture and garlic importers, including:
- Former Bureau of Plants Industry (BPI) Director Clarito Barron
- Plant Quarantine Service officer-in-charge Merle Bautista Palacpac
- Former Plant Quarantine Service chief Luben Quijano Marasigan
- Alleged dummies of importer Lilia Cruz aka Leah Cruz, who established the Vegetable Importers, Experts and Vendors Association of the PHilippines (Vieva Philippines).
Barron is also facing bribery charges for allegedly receiving P240,000 from Vieva Philippines Incorporated president Lilybeth Valenzuela.
In a 32-page report completed in September 2014, the NBI found that Cruz was able to corner at least 75% of all garlic imports in the country by taking advantage of loopholes in the system. (DOJ: ‘Garlic cartel’ behind price spike, DA officials probed)
The price spikes reached a high of P287 ($6.37) per kilo in June 2014 – an increase of 74% within a one-year-period and more an increase of more than 100% from average prices.
In the Philippines, about 73% of garlic supplies come from imports while the remaining 27% are sourced locally.
Further investigation showed that BPI officials connived with Vieva Philippines to give the group undue advantage in the market.
The NBI found that the BPI seldom gave permits to importers who were not members of Vieva Philippines and denied applications to non-Vieva affiliates without sufficient reasons.
Of the 3,652 import permits issued from 2010 to 2014, BPI issued 2,469 (68%) to importers who were Vieva affilicates.
“The denial of the issuance of the import permits to non-Vieva members or affiliates were without sufficient reasons, despite full compliance of the applicants with the requirements set forth for the issuance of import permits and plant quarantine certificates. the evident partiality of the foregoing BPI officials in the issuance of import permits and plant quarantine certificates and giving of undue favor to Vieva Philippines headed by subject Lilia Cruz has resulted to a situation wherein garlic traders and importers were able to control the supply as well as the price of garlic,” the complaint said.
Other importers identified with Cruz named in the complaint include Touch Down Trading, Magtutumana ng Sta. Rosa Multi-Purpose Cooperative and Purple Moon Trading. – Rappler.com
$1 = P45.05