MANILA - The Office of the Ombudsman has found probable cause to charge former Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and 23 others with graft due to alleged links to cartel operations behind a spike in garlic prices.
Alcala and the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) issued a total of 8,810 import permits for garlic from 2010 to 2014. Of the total, 5,022 permits were cornered by the Vendors Association of the Philippines, Inc. (VIEVA) chaired by respondent Lilia Cruz, the Ombudsman said.
Alcala in July 2013 designated Cruz as chairperson of the National Garlic Action Team (NGAT), a consultative body of the Department of Agriculture on garlic production and policies. At the same time, Cruz represented garlic traders, assisting them in the processing of applications and issuance of import permits, the office added.
The Ombudsman said the NGAT declared an insufficiency in the country’s garlic supply and recommended the importation of 58,240 metric tons of garlic, with 70 percent of import permits going to farmer cooperatives and the rest to traders.
"By adopting the scheme, Cruz practically controlled a big chunk of the 100% of the IPs for imported garlic. ," the Ombudsman said in a resolution dated April 20.
"The 30% of the IPs supposedly allocated to legitimate garlic importers was given mostly to VIEVA and its affiliated importers. On the other hand, the 70% of IP allocation for the farmer cooperatives was mainly captured by Cruz through VIEVA-affiliated farmer groups,” it added.
From January to July 2014, the price of imported garlic soared, ranging from P260 to P400 per kilo, from its average price of P165 to P170; while the price of native garlic varied from P250 to P400, the Ombudsman noted.
Aside from Alcala, indicted for graft were Cruz, BPI officials Clarito Barron, Merle Palacpac and Luben Marasigan, and 19 other garlic traders.
Alcala has denied giving his blessing for the approval of any import permit, adding that businessmen have the most to gain from the controversy.