INVESTIGATORS from the Office of the Ombudsman have started a probe of outgoing Department of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and several other persons for their alleged involvement in the garlic cartel scam.
The investigation came in the heels of a complaint filed by the Ombudsman’s Field Investigation Office against Alcala and Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) officials 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).
Specifically, the respondents are being investigated for possible violations of Sections 3(e) and 3(j) of Republic Act 3019 (the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act). At the same time, Alcala and Barron also face administrative adjudication for Grave Misconduct and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service.
Alcala, a Liberal Party member, has been the DA secretary since the current Aquino administration took the helm of government in 2010.
The Office of the Ombudsman said the FIO, through the sleuthing of the National Bureau of Investigation, 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.
It added that the FIO sought the NBI’s help to investigate the possibility that someone might be profiteering, hoarding and involve in cartel-like activities after it noticed an extraordinary and alarming spike in the prices of garlic from January to July, 2014.
The FIO likewise 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.”
It will be recalled that in January 2016, 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
P240,000.00 in exchange for the issuance of 2 import permits. For this, Barron is facing preliminary investigation for violation of Section 3(b) of R.A. No. 3019) and administrative adjudication for Grave Misconduct and Conduct Prejudicial to the Best Interest of the Service.