Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala should resign from his post
for failing to stop a “cartel” from manipulating garlic prices last year.
Party-list congressmen Walden Bello and Antonio Tinio made the call on Friday, a day after graft charges were filed against 119 individuals, including Clarito Barron, a former head of the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), and alleged garlic cartel queen Lilia Cruz, for conniving to enable Cruz to corner garlic import permits.
Senator Sergio Osmeña 3rd, however, would settle for Alcala’s suspension until investigation of his role in the alleged price manipulation was completed.
The manipulation of garlic prices could not have happened without the knowledge of the officials of the Department of Agriculture (DA), including Alcala, and so he has to be suspended, according to Osmeña.
His statements came a day after the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed a criminal complaint against 119 government officials (including Barron), importers and several leaders of farmers’ cooperatives reportedly involved in the alleged manipulation of garlic prices last year.
The NBI said the supposed collusion between officials of BPI, which is under the DA, and the importers and the cooperatives led to the sudden spike in the prices of garlic in the local market in 2014.
Majority of the import permits issued by the bureau last year was said to have been cornered by Cruz, a businesswoman who established the Vegetable Importers, Exporters and Vendors Association of the Philippines (Vieva Philippines).
The NBI, however, saw no need to include Alcala in the criminal complaint, saying there was no sufficient evidence that would link the DA secretary to the controversy.
But Osmeña said it is unlikely that Alcala is unaware of what his men are up to or has no information about the supposed collusion between the Agriculture officials and the importers.
“In fact, as the head of the DA, he can immediately put a stop to it if he wanted to, so I believe that it [garlic price manipulation]has the secretary’s blessing,” he added.
“I think he [Alcala] should be suspended, at least while investigation is going on. But that’s up to the Ombudsman,” Osmeña said.
Meanwhile, he suggested that the government do away with “import permits” since their issuance is not sanctioned by law.
Since 1997 when Congress passed the Tariffication Act in 1997, the government has not restricted importation of garlic, onions and eight other agricultural products and just imposed import taxes instead.
Tarification refers to replacement of quantitative restrictions on imports with their estimated tariff equivalent.
By 1999, however, according to Osmena, he learned about import permits being required of importers, with the government citing phytosanitary measures issued by the Plant Quarantine Service (PQS) of the BPI.
All imported commodities are subject to PQS’ verification, inspection and examination in the laboratory.
The agency can also place imported products under quarantine or destroy them if needed.
The charge sheet accuses Barron of receiving P240,000 cash as bribe in exchange for issuing four import permits worth P60,000 each.
Others charged were Merle Bautista Palacpac, officer in charge of Plant Quarantine Service; and Luben Quijano Marasigan, former PQS chief and now quarantine officer assigned at North Harbor, Manila.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima earlier said the probe of Alcala’s alleged involvement in the garlic cartel is yet to be determined.
Caloocan City (Metro Manila) Rep. Edgar Erice, a party-mate of Alcala in the ruling Liberal Party headed by President Benigno Aquino 3rd, backed de Lima’s stance.
“It is still a work in progress and we have to understand that the [Justice department] is strategizing for a solid prosecutorial position,” Erice told The Manila Times in a text message.