DAVAO CITY –- A national farmers organization said that officials of the Department of Agriculture should be investigated and punished over their likely involvement in the cartel behind the spike of garlic prices in the country.

“There is no way that such a cartel could have existed without cohorts from the DA, most of all Secretary Proceso Alcala,” said Pedro Arnado of farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) Southern Mindanao.

Arnado said the DA’s “silence on the increase of prices of garlic, rice and other commodities show that if they are not in connivance with traders they are indeed useless.”

The price of garlic rose by as much as 74 percent from last year and have reached as much as P400 a kilo nationwide, which the Office for Competition (OFC) of the Department of Justice (DOJ) has blamed on a cartel manipulated by one big importer, identified as Lilia M. Cruz, who also use another name, Leah Cruz.

The OFC’s 32-page “Report on the Garlic Industry” following the sharp increase in prices said Cruz cornered 75 percent of the supply, using three other importers, apparently also operating under her instance.

Justice Secretary Leila De Lima disclosed this in a press conference in Manila yesterday as she also said that the cartel may have colluded with Bureau of Plant Industry and DA  officials.

Arnado said that while the DOJ result is “late” their group also filed plunders cases against Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala, among others, in their involvement in “corruption connected to importation of rice and other agricultural products.”

Arnado said the agriculture department offices everywhere in the country “have been very silent regarding the cartel pushing forward instead typical arguments on supply woes.”

“The department even issued outrageous statements to justify the price increase even saying that consumers prefer imported over local garlic,” said Arnado.

Region XI Agriculture Director Remelyln Recoter, in an interview with Davao Today last June said the region was on “lean months” or land preservation stage which caused the low supply.

Recoter said that the region also does not produce garlic as farmers have already shifted to more profitable crops.

“But why is it that there is no one being punished in government while farmers continue to die in poverty in the countrysides? The Aquino government really cannot deny that his haciendero background reflects in his governance,” said Arnado.

In September last year, the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption filed a case against a Leah Cruz and two key officials of the BPI.

VACC called Cruz the “Napoles” of DA, referring to Janet-Lim Napoles implicated in the multi-billion-peso “pork barrel” corruption scam.

VACC said Cruz “was the only person allowed to import garlic and onions.”  Cruz was said to have possessed 300 importation permits from the BPI.

The OFC report said that Cruz started the Vegetable Importers, Exporters and Vendors Association of the Philippines, Inc, an importer and trader since 2011 and a “very active force in the creation of the National Garlice Action Team and its sister team, the National Onion Action Team (NOAT).”

“Interviews with BPI officials’ and 3 accredited importers revealed that Cruz is behind all eight (8) farmers cooperatives and associations which are members of NGAT. Furthermore, she has created several dummy entities to maximize the number of SPSIC that she would get,” said the report.

The OFC report said that the import permits were issued by BPI and covered 73 percent of garlic supply in the country. Local producers account for only 23 percent of the supply.

In June of this year, the DA was considering to import more garlic in batches and approve 932 importation permits based upon the recommendation of the NGAT. (John Rizle L. Saligumba/davaotoday.com)

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