Ombudsman probes DA chief for garlic cartel scam

MANILA -- The Office of the Ombudsman (Ombudsman) has started its investigation on Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary Proceso Alcala and several Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) officials for their alleged involvement in the garlic cartel scam.

This was after the Ombudsman's Field Investigation Office (FIO) filed a complaint-affidavit against Alcala and BPI officials; namely, Clarito Barron, Merle Palacpac, Jesus Bajacan and Luben Marasigan.

Also included in the FIO's complaint are Lilia Cruz and the incorporators of the Vegetable Importers, Exporters and Vendors Association of the Philippines, Inc. (VIEVA).

Alcala et al. are being investigated for violation of Sections 3(e) and 3(j) of Republic Act No. 3019, or the "Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act".

Alcala and Barron also face administrative adjudication for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service.

In its complaint, the FIO alleged that in January-July 2014, an extraordinary and alarming spike in the prices of garlic was noted which prompted the Department of Justice (DOJ) to direct the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct an investigation 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 monopolized the supply of garlic and dictated market prices.

According to the NBI, the monopoly was made possible through the participation of BPI officials who granted numerous import permits to VIEVA and its affiliates despite the absence of the required accreditation.

Likewise, the FIO also alleged that "as DA Secretary, Alcala has the direct supervision over the functions of the BPI" and "[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, the FIO also recommended the investigation of Barron for graft and direct bribery for his alleged involvement in the anomalous issuance of garlic import permits.

A witness testified that in July 2012, a vegetable importer/exporter went to Barron's office and paid PHP240,000 in exchange for the issuance of two import permits.

For this, Barron is facing preliminary investigation for violation of Section 3(b) of RA No. 3019 and administrative adjudication for grave misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the best interest of the service. (PNA)


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