Former agriculture secretary Alcala, officials, traders charged with graft

MANILA, Philippines – Former agriculture secretary Proceso Alacala, other government officials, and garlic traders have been charged with graft for their role in the alleged creation of a garlic cartel during the previous administration. 

The Office of the Ombudsman filed the charges before anti-graft court Sandiganbayan, saying that Alcala, Bureau of Plant Industry Director Clarito Barron, and private traders were found to have violated of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act. (READ: Agri chief is highest paid Cabinet official)

Also charged were former National Quarantine Services Division chiefs Merle Palacpac and Luben Marasigan, who had a hand in the importation process.

This comes after an April 20, 2018, resolution where a panel of investigators found probably cause to file criminal charges against Alcala and the other respondents for allegedly attempting to control garlic supply from the months of January to July in 2014. (READ: Ombudsman investigates Alcala for garlic cartel scam)

It was only on last March 12 when Ombudsman Samuel Martires allowed for indictment. Days later, on March 15, graft investigation and prosecution officer Bonifacio Mandrilla filed graft charges against these respondents.  

Some private traders named by Sandiganbayan were:

These respondents were granted a bail bond of P30,000 each. 

Martires said the collusion began in 2010, when Alcala formed the National Garlic Action Team (NGAT) to pass on resolutions. The team was composed of both the government and private sector individuals.  

Alcala endorsed these resolutions to Barron, who then issued import permits (IP), upon the recomendation of the two former quarantine officials. 

However, investigators found that the NGAT had been too influential that it affected garlic importation. Lilia Cruz, who had been designated as NGAT's chairperson, used her position to have her groups take control of the supply as well as the price. 

"From November 2013 to March 2014…there were a total of 8,810 applications granted IPs," Martires said.

Out of these applications, 5,022 IPS were from Cruz's companies or affiliated companies, the Ombudsman added. 

Cruz held the following positions: 

Private traders were also found to have held leading positions in the following interconnected trading firms:

The investigation panel found that during the supposed period the cartel was active, import garlic prices spiked from a range of P165 to P170 to P260 to P400 per kilo. 

Native garlic prices, on the other hand, also increased to a range of P250 to P450 from the months of April to June 2014. –