SEN. Cynthia Villar on Monday threatened to sue the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) for its failure to stop the cartels that continue to manipulate the prices of some agricultural products being imported into the country.
Villar, chairman of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, issued the warning after learning that of the 57,000 metric tons of garlic that had been given import clearance by the BPI, only 12,140 metric tons had arrived as of May.
The senator said she finds the discrepancies between the quantity of imported garlic that were given a permit and the actual volume that arrived in the country highly questionable and warrants investigation.
During the committee hearing on Monday, Villar admonished BPI Director Vivencio Mamaril for his failure to go after the traders who failed to meet the amount of imports indicated in the permit.
“There is really manipulation, and it destroys the law of supply and demand,” she said.
The senator’s committee conducted the inquiry following the reported resurgence of a garlic cartel as indicated by a sudden rise in garlic prices in the local market last May.
The price of garlic increased from P140 per kilo to more than P200, which is reminiscent of 2014 when the prices of garlic ballooned to more than P300 per kilo.
The senator also expressed disappointment when the BPI head failed to provide the committee the detailed list of importers allowed to import garlic.
She warned the BPI chief that she would not hesitate to file charges against the BPI in behalf of garlic farmers if the agency would continue to allow cartels to thrive.
Villar said she also plans to bring the matter before the Philippine Competition Commission.
“Maybe the commission can do something about it, although it usually goes after big companies involved in cartels,” she added.
Mamaril, in an interview after the hearing, maintained that he can not speak about such cartels since he has no knowledge of it.
“We can only speak of records of what we have,” he added.
Mamaril admitted that there was a shortage of garlic in May but he said it is because of the decrease in the production in China as a result of climate change.
However, he noted that the increase in garlic prices only lasted for two weeks and prices started to normalize as imports from China started coming in during the latter part of May.
Currently, the price of garlic ranges from P80 to P100 per kilo.
The Philippines imports 80 percent of its yearly garlic demand of about 139,777 metric tons (MT) from China and 20 percent from India.
Local garlic production is only about 9,000 MT or six percent of the annual demand.