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MANILA, Philippines – After nine hearings, the House committee on agriculture and food said it was a cartel, which colluded with Philippine Vegetable Importers, Exporters and Vendors Association (PhilVIEVA), that allegedly jacked up onion prices.
“Clearly, artificial ang pagtaas ng presyo. Malinaw pa sa sikat ng araw na bunga ito ng sabwatan ng onion cartel,” Marikina 2nd District Rep Stella Quimbo said in a press briefing on Thursday, May 18. (The surge in prices are artificial. It is clear as day that this is the onion cartel working.)
Quimbo said, documents provided to the House committee on agriculture and food, showed the trading, importation firms, cold storage warehouses, and trucking company were connected to PhilVIEVA.
In their findings, Quimbo said they found PhilVIEVA to be a fully-equipped machinery that could control the supply of onions in the whole country. Farmers had to contend with limited space in cold storage facilities.
Operators, too, said during the House hearings that the facilities were actually full of onions. If there was more than enough supply, onion prices should not have skyrocketed, said Quimbo.
Taking a step further, Quimbo accused Lilia ‘Leah’ Cruz, who organized PhilVIEVA, as the ringleader of the onion cartel.
“Kung sa unang hearing, si Leah Cruz ay denial queen, by hearing number 9, para sa amin, siya ang undisputed sibuyas queen,” said Quimbo. (If in the first hearing, Leah Cruz is the denial queen, by hearing number 9, we have concluded that she is the undisputed onion queen.)
“Kaya’t nananawagan po kami sa NBI, PCC, at sa enforcement unit sa loob ng DA – pagtulungan po nating lahat, nasa inyo na ang bola, balatan po ninyo ang onion cartel.” (We are calling on the NBI, PCC, and the enforcement unit inside the DA. Help expose the onion cartel.)
Cruz is also the biggest stockholder of Golden Shine International Freight Forwarders Corporation, a trucking business connected to PhilVIEVA.
A matrix presented in the hearing on Wednesday, also implicated in the alleged cartel Eric Pabilona and Renato Francisco.
Pabilona is a stockholder at one of the biggest cold storage facilities in the country, Tian Long Corporation. He also has shares in Golden Shine. Francisco is the biggest stockholder of onion importers Yom Trading Corporation and La Reina Fresh Vegetables and Young Indoor Plants, Inc.
What happens next?
While the committee is yet to finalize its report, Quezon 1st District Representative Mark Enverga said they could still include in their recommendations the filing of criminal complaints against other individuals.
Asked if there were government officials who will also be implicated, Enverga did not answer directly.
He said: “For a cartel to thrive, kinakailangang may kasama tayo sa gobyerno.” (For a cartel to thrive, government officials must be involved.)
A systematic data collection and analysis from the Department of Agriculture is needed, said Quimbo, as incomplete documents were a source of constant frustration throughout the investigation.