Office of the Ombudsman

Ombudsman suspends gov’t officials over ‘anomalous’ onion deal. Here’s why.

Jairo Bolledo

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Ombudsman suspends gov’t officials over ‘anomalous’ onion deal. Here’s why.

ONIONS. A market vendor arranges large size onions imported from China which sells at P350/kilo at Libertad Market in Pasay City on January 17, 2023.


The respondents face charges for alleged grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service in relation to the government's Kadiwa program

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman suspended some Department of Agriculture (DA) and Food Terminal Incorporated (FTI) officials over an allegedly anomalous onion deal under the government’s Kadiwa program.

In an order, Ombudsman Samuel Martires issued a preventive suspension against the following:

  • DA Assistant Secretary Kristine Evangelista
  • DA acting chief accountant Lolita Jamela
  • DA administrative officer Eunice Biblanias
  • FTI Vice President for Operations John Gabriel Benedict Trinidad III
  • FTI budget division chief Juanita Lualhati

The order said the officials will be suspended without pay “for the duration of the proceedings until the same is terminated, but not to exceed six (6) months.” The suspension also took effect upon the service of the order to the respondents.

But why did the Ombudsman order the suspension?

Ombudsman’s order

A complaint was filed against the five officials – and Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban and FTI president and chief executive officer Robert Tan – with prayer for their preventive suspension. Based on the Ombudsman’s order, only five of the respondents were suspended.

  • The respondents were charged with grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.
  • They face charges in connection with the shortage of onion supply in the market, its alleged price manipulation, and the FTI’s questionable purchase of onions from Bonena Multi-Purpose Cooperative.
  • According to records, Panganiban entered into a memorandum of agreement with the FTI for the Kadiwa program. FTI, meanwhile, entered into an agreement with Bonena for the delivery of 8,845 bags of onions. Under the said project, the government brings agricultural products produced by farmers directly to consumers through Kadiwa stores.
  • Documents showed that the respondents allegedly violated Republic Act (RA) No. 3019 or Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, in relation to RA No. 9184 or the procurement law.
  • The alleged violations were committed in: 1) lack of parameters in selecting a cooperative that will supply and deliver the onions; 2) questionable advance payment of 50% of the contract price; 3) noncompliance of the MOA; 4) partial implementation of the contract; and 5) doubtful deliveries by Bonena.
  • Since the respondents remained in office and “may influence potential witnesses and may prejudice the case filed against them due to their continued access to documentary evidence relative thereto,” the Ombudsman moved to suspend some of them.
  • The Ombudsman added: “In view of the foregoing, it appears that the evidence of guilt of respondents Evangelista, Biblanias, Jamela, Trinidad III and Lualhati is strong and the charges against them involve Grave Misconduct and Gross Neglect of Duty which may warrant their removal from the service.”
Why this matters

The preventive suspension of some DA officials was the latest development in the onion price issue affecting the country.

  • Kadiwa, in some way, helped in easing the prices of agricultural goods since the government served as the middleman connecting farmers to consumers. And yet, some agriculture officials were tagged in an anomaly related to the project.
  • At present, the government has launched a crackdown against alleged cartels, which were said to be causing the rise in onion prices. After nine hearings, the House committee on agriculture and food said a cartel colluded with Philippine Vegetable Importers, Exporters and Vendors Association that allegedly caused the surge in prices.
  • In July this year, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who also happens to be the agriculture chief, ordered the Department of Justice and the National Bureau of Investigation to probe into the alleged onion cartel. Shortly after, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla said they were eyeing an economic sabotage case against the alleged cartel. –

1 comment

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  1. ET

    Right timing for the Ombudsman, just after the SONA of President Marcos Jr. when the latter promised to go after agricultural products smugglers, hoarders, etc. It seems to project that the Marcos Jr. Administration is quick to act on the issue but when in fact this incident happened January of this year (around six [6] months delay). The incident shows the unsustainability of the Kadiwa program at least for the moment. Perhaps, many will ask, based on the principle of command responsibility – why the Department of Agriculture Secretary is not included?

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Jairo Bolledo

Jairo Bolledo is a multimedia reporter at Rappler covering justice, police, and crime.