Agri chief, others face probe over garlic ‘cartel’

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Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Proceso Alcala and several others are facing preliminary investigation at the Office of the Ombudsman for their alleged involvement in the supposed manipulation of garlic prices in 2014.

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Aside from Alcala, the Ombudsman is investigating former Bureau of Plant Industry Director Clarito Barron, BPI National Plant Quarantine Services Division chief Merle Palacpac, then-BPI official Jesus Bajacan and former quarantine chief Luben Marasigan.

Businesswoman Lilia Cruz and incorporators of the Vegetable Importers, Exporters and Vendors Association of the Philippines Inc. (Vieva) are also facing investigation.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Ombudsman said “Alcala et al. are being investigated for violation of Sections 3(e) and 3(j) of the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act [Republic Act or RA 3019]. Alcala and Barron also face administrative adjudication for Grave Misconduct and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service.”

Earlier, the Field Investigation Office (FIO) under the Office of the Ombudsman filed a complaint-affidavit at the office against the respondents.

The FIO alleged that an “extraordinary and alarming spike” in garlic prices was noted from January to July 2014, which prompted the Department of Justice to direct the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to look into possible profiteering, hoarding and cartel-like activities.

In its January 2015 transmittal letter, the NBI concluded that Vieva–a group of garlic traders and importers headed by Cruz–allegedly monopolized the supply of garlic and dictated market prices.

BPI officials allegedly granted numerous import permits to Vieva and its affiliates despite absence of required accreditation.

The FIO alleged that “as DA Secretary, Alcala has the direct supervision over the functions of the BPI” and that “[Alcala’s] participation in the scheme was manifested when he created the National Garlic Action Team (NGAT) composed mainly of private stakeholders with apparent interest in the garlic industry.”

In January 2016, the FIO recommended that the Ombudsman investigate Barron for graft and direct bribery in connection with his alleged involvement in the supposedly anomalous issuance of garlic import permits.

Barron is facing preliminary investigation for violation of Section 3(b) of RA 3019 and administrative adjudication for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

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