(Department of Agriculture logo)

(Department of Agriculture logo)

MANILA (Mabuhay) – Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala shrugged off calls to take a leave of absence, while the National Bureau of Investigation completes its probe into his alleged links to a garlic and onion cartel.

Alcala denies allegations he has ever given his blessing for the approval of any import permit, adding importers have the most to gain from the controversy.

Hindi ko pwedeng irekonsidera ko yan, kasi mismo Malacanang po, si Secretary Coloma nag-statement, pati NBI nagsabi walang naman pong konkretong ebidensiya linking me…. Sana wineweigh nila ano ang nagawa ng kagawaran sa ating mga magsasaka,” he said.

Alcala is eyeing libel charges against whistleblower Elizabeth “Lilybeth” Valenzuela, who quoted former Bureau of Plant Industry director Clarito Barron as telling importers they must have Alcala’s blessings to be issued import permits.

He also hopes to seek an audience with Valenzuela Rep. Sherwin Gatchalian to explain the issue.

Wala po akong ni katiting na pinipirmahan para sa import permit. It’s not within my mandate, hanggang sa bureau director lang ng Bureau of Plants… Hindi lang ako ang kagawawran na may ganitong situation, na lahat is under me… Kung mga smuggler na nagpupuputak, mas maawa tayo sa ating magsasaka,” Alcala said.

Alcala noted Barron, a distant relative of his wife and two members of the BPI have been moved to a special division, pending the NBI probe into the alleged garlic cartel.

He said they will also look into reports garlic importer Lea Matabang-Cruz acquired 67 percent of garlic import permits from 2010 to 2014.

Before hindi po online, now ito na yung kaso. It’s up for her to prove na hindi siya yun… Dapat makasiguro kami na ito’y sa kanyang lahat kasi, kung hindi ano naman magagawa namin… We have to check also yun po bang mga grupo na nag-aaakusa are they doing the same o hindi? Kung mapatunayan na ganoon may malaking pagkakasala yan and the department is here para patawan sila ng kaparusahan,” he said.

The DA, Alcala said, has been consulting the Department of Trade and Industry on the purchase of imports, adding they have also been implementing initiatives to improve garlic and onion production since reforms were pursued in July 2014.

Nireview namin yun process at since July nakita namin na maganda walang human intervention. So nag-initiate kami na pabilisin yung online process ng lahat ng importasyon ng garlic at onion… First time in the history ng ating bansa na may trials na to harvest twice,” he said.

The DA chief said the price of garlic back to the P80-P100 level after shooting up to as much as P400 per kilo, since they solved the issue in July. (MNS)