Woman trader earns P200M through fake companies
IF Janet Lim Napoles used fake non-government organizations (NGOs) to siphon off billions of pesos from lawmakers, another woman trader tapped questionable companies reportedly headed by her maids and drivers to rake in P200 million from the Department of Agriculture (DA) through her “monopoly” in the importation of garlic.
According to Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) counsel Ariel Genaro Jawid, only companies identified with Leah Cruz were given importation permits (IPs) by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), an attached agency of the DA.
Jawid claimed that Cruz is the DA’s version of “Napoles” because she pocketed hundreds of millions of pesos by using dummy companies.
“By now, it’s a scheme we have all grown too familiar with. Only, it’s not just Congress that has its Janet Lim Napoles. The DA has its in-house version of her too—a Leah Cruz, who profits unjustly and illegally, to the tune of nearly P200 million in the last 12 months, through her dealings with the DA-BPI. Like Napoles, Cruz’s companies are also ‘owned’ by her drivers, clerks, and househelp,” Jawid said.
The new anomaly came to light even as the DA and the National Food Authority (NFA) are hounded by allegations that the importation of rice was overpriced by P457 million.
Cruz, Jawid said, is a recipient of the DA’s Philippines Good Agricultural Practices (PhilGAP) award. Her alleged companies—Shelmarie Enterprises, A.G.R. Trading, Bee Jee Trading, and Tumana Trading—were issued “revalidated” IPs, “the only the that are able to regularly ship in imported garlic since mid-2012 up to the present.”
On April 20, 2012, BPI Director Clarito Barron issued a memorandum temporarily suspending the issuance of IPs, allegedly to revive the garlic industry in the country pursuant to the Garlic Industry Development Road Map. He, however, immediately lifted the order after having been sued for its release.
“But this lifting did not settle the problem of non-issuance of IPs for garlic. There should have been no question on this “non-issuance” or IP if there were no hundreds of container vans of imported garlic in the market,” said the lawyer.
According to Jawid, after the ban on the issuance of IPs was lifted, only Cruz’s companies were allowed to regularly ship imported garlic since the middle of last year by way of “revalidated” IPs. Cruz has allegedly made P192 million from her virtual monopoly of garlic importation in the last 12 months.
“It is not rocket science that will lead us to the horrifying conclusion that the arrival of 20 containers of garlic (40 footer) per week on the average from August 20l2 up to the present will translate to around 960 containers. At P200,000 net income per container, that translates to P192 million in the last 12 months,” said Jawid.
In a March 26, 2013 letter to Bureau of Customs (BOC) Commissioner Rozzano Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon, Barron claimed that the IP certificates of extension were signed “without prior knowledge, authority, and permission” from him.
“So we now have an issue of fake IPs? Even if we were to take that to be true, the BPI continues to be infested with various corrupt practices: IPs being peddled from P30,000 up to P100,000 per permit like a valued commodity; illegal overtime fees of P1,500 per container; five sacks per container as ‘samples’ for examination; and the ‘pa-buto’ or ‘pa-binhi’ wherein the poor farmers are sold two kilos of seedlings but are made to sign and acknowledge that they received four kilos,” the lawyer said
“Pardon the pun, but of these, the IPs for garlic still stinks the most,” he added.
In his column, Dead Shot, that came out at The Manila Times last week, veteran journalist Erwin Tulfo said the name of Cruz has been going around the BOC for sometime being the “only person allowed to import onions and garlic into the country.”
Citing reports that reached him, Tulfo said IPs “have become so precious that one import permit alone could cost as high as P100,000 but it only cost P20 during the previous administration.”
“Sources said the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) of the Agriculture department is the agency responsible in issuing permits but it refuses to issue permits to other importers. An official of the BOC, who asked not to be named, confirmed that Cruz, through her dummy companies, is the only person allowed to import onions and garlic,” Tulfo claimed.
Biazon even cancelled the accreditation of the companies reportedly connected to importer Cruz.
Tulfo said Cruz’s companies “are fake and do not have offices.”
Cruz was allegedly the recipient of over 300 IPs, allowing her to bring in some P2 billion worth of garlic since August last year to the detriment of members of the Philippine Vegetable Importers/Exporters Inc. (PVIE) led by Lilybeth B. Valenzuela, whose applications for import permits were denied.
In a complaint filed at the Department of Justice, the PVIE and VACC led by President Dante Jimenez and Chairman Martin Diño jointly accused two key officials of the BPI and Cruz of “illegal combinations and monopolizations in restraint of trade, in rampant violation of Article 186 of the Revised Penal Code.”
To prove that the Cruz group is a monopoly, the VACC and the PVIE said that all nine companies that were given IPs by the BPI are mostly dummy companies managed and controlled by Cruz, and almost all these companies are represented by only one broker—Orlando Marguilencia.
The complaint against the BPI and Cruz was on offshoot of the graft charge filed with the Office of the Ombudsman by Hexa Trading against DA Secretary Proceso Alcala, Barron and Cruz.
Alcala was also implicated in the “pork barrel” scam involving Napoles after he was accused of facilitating the release of millions of pesos to fake organizations.
At a press briefing on Tuesday, Alcala said that his agency will recommend the filing of charges against the officers of non-government organizations that received “pork” from several lawmakers.
Alcala said that they are coordinating with the Office of the Solicitor General for the filing of appropriate charges against the Kaupdanan Para Mangunguma Foundation, Inc., a group controlled by Napoles.
The DA chief said his agency will provide documents to the OSG which it can use in conducting its investigation.
Alcala also identified six lawmakers who released part of their PDAF to the Napoles-controlled NGO this year.
Based on the DA report, the PDAF infusions to KMFI were intended for the distribution of knapsack sprayers to farmers in their respective districts. Of the P83.2 million allotted for the NGO, only P44.90 million was released.
The lawmakers who gave to the KMFI were An Waray Partylist Rep. Neil Benedict Montejo, Davao del Norte Second District Representative Antonio Lagdameo, Davao City Third District Representative Isidro Ungab, Masbate Third District Representative Scott Davies Lanete, and Oriental Mindoro Second District Representative Reynaldo Umali.
The report showed that Montejo gave P9.2 million to the Napoles-run NGO, all of which were fully released and liquidated. The department said “randomly selected recipient farmers” acknowledged receipt of knapsack sprayers and foliar fertilizer.
Lagdameo gave P1 million, Ungab, P13 million, Umali, P10 million, and Lanete, P45 million—all of which were fully released and liquidated.
Alcala, on the other hand, said that their initial findings showed that Assistant Secretary Ophelia Agawin, who served as chairman of the NGO / People’s Organizations (PO) accreditation committee, was not “not liable.”
“We are not washing hands. We had no knowledge that there are questionable NGOs. Kaupdanan accreditation papers were in order, so we don’t see Asec. Agawin or the accreditation team liable,” he said.