127 face criminal charges over garlic cartel

By , on January 15, 2015

Garlic from a recent harvest in Santa Rosa, Nueva Ecija. Ramon F. Velasquez / Wikipedia photo
Garlic from a recent harvest in Santa Rosa, Nueva Ecija. Ramon F. Velasquez / Wikipedia photo

MANILA – More than a hundred individuals who are allegedly involved in cartel that led to skyrocketing prices of garlic last year face criminal charges.

Charges for direct bribery, profiteering and cartel under the Price Act, monopolies and restraint of trade under the Revised Penal Code, use of false names and obstruction of justice have been filed against 127 individuals, including former Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) director Clarito Barron.

Aside from Barron, other people who face charges include: former BPI-Plant Quarantine Service chief Luben Marasigan, BPI-PQS officer-in-charge Merle Palacpac and businesswoman Lilia Cruz alias Lea Cruz, head of the Vegetable Importers, Exporters and Vendors Association of the Philippines Inc. (VIEVA Phils.) and chairperson of the National Garlic Action Team (NGAT) and National Onion Action Team (NOAT).

Barron denied the allegations saying that the DOJ has no proof that a collusion happened in the local garlic trade.

“The results of the investigation of the DOJ-Office of Competition is unfounded as its conclusions are based on weak accusations tainted with politics. It was not properly determined how collusion took place. It was just declared that there was one between traders and officials of the BPI,” he added.

The approved garlic import permit applications have been checked based on the guidelines provided by the BPI.

“The issuance of plant quarantine clearance to accredited importers mean that the garlic they import are free from disease,” Barron said.

He added, “If prices rise, we no longer have control in these. It is the Bureau of Customs that is expected to monitor this.”

The referral-complaint from the National Bureau of Investigation contains more than 100 importers and members from farmers’ cooperatives.

“The findings of the investigation show the presence of collusion among the BPI officials and importers of Vieva Phils. The farmers’ associations/multi-purpose cooperatives have no capability to complete importation transactions based on their financial statements/annual income tax returns. The import permits they secured from BPI were facilitated by Lilia/Lea Cruz, by paying to Director C.M. Barron the amount of P60,000 per import permit,” according to the NBI complaint filed.