De Lima: Not enough evidence vs. Alcala in garlic cartel controversy

President Benigno S. Aquino III graces the 8th East Asia Conference (EAC) on Competition Law and Policy at the Mindanao Ballroom, Sofitel Philippine Plaza in CCP Complex, Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City on Wednesday (August 28, 2013). EAC is an open event for key high-level officials of competition agencies in East Asia. EAC participants exchange ideas, views and experiences on emerging regional competition issues; and undertake to strengthen understanding and cooperation with regard to the implementation of competition policy and law across the region. In photo are Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) chairman Kazuyuki Sugimoto. (MNS photo)

President Benigno S. Aquino III graces the 8th East Asia Conference (EAC) on Competition Law and Policy at the Mindanao Ballroom, Sofitel Philippine Plaza in CCP Complex, Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City on Wednesday (August 28, 2013). EAC is an open event for key high-level officials of competition agencies in East Asia. EAC participants exchange ideas, views and experiences on emerging regional competition issues; and undertake to strengthen understanding and cooperation with regard to the implementation of competition policy and law across the region. In photo are Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Japan Fair Trade Commission (JFTC) chairman Kazuyuki Sugimoto. (MNS photo)

MANILA, Jan 8 (Mabuhay) – Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Thursday said there isn’t enough evidence yet to implicate Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala in the sudden surge in garlic prices last year allegedly caused by cartels.

De Lima issued the clarification following a newspaper report quoting Lilybeth Valenzuela, a garlic importer, as claiming in a sworn statement that she was told by former Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) director Clarito Barron that importers like her needed to get “the blessings” of Alcala before import permits could be issued to them.

“There is still insufficient evidence gathered by the NBI with respect to Sec. Alcala,” De Lima told reporters.

On Wednesday, the NBI filed before the Office of the Ombudsman criminal charges against Barron and more than 100 others, including supposed “dummies” of importer Lilia Cruz, alias Leah Cruz who reportedly cornered at least 75 percent of the total garlic importation in the country by virtue of BPI import permits.

The first set of charges was filed with the Office of the Ombudsman, and included charges of direct bribery and violation of the Anti-Graft law.

The second is set to be filed Thursday with the Department of Justice and includes charges for violation of of the Price Act, Monopolies and Combinations in restraint of trade under the Revised Penal Code; using fictitious name and concealing true name, also under the RPC; and Obstruction of apprehension and prosecution of criminal offenders under Presidential Decree No. 1892.

The NBI has accused Barron of accepting P240,000 during his incumbency as BPI director for the issuance of import permits to Cruz.

The former BPI official also “willfully gave importers… unwarranted benefits, advantage, and preference in the performance of their function as the issuing authority of IPs/Plant Quarantine Clearance,” according to the NBI.

Barron also allegedly approved or granted IPs/PQCs in favor of importers who are not qualified to be issued with such permits, the NBI added.

Apart from Barron, also charged with graft were Merle Bautista Palacpac, officer-in-charge of the BPI Plant and Quarantine Service; Luben Marasigan, former chief of the BPI-PQS.

“The evident partiality of the foregoing BPI officials in the issuance of IPs/PQCs and giving of undue favor to VIEVA Phil headed by subject Lilia Cruz has resulted in a situation wherein the garlic traders and importers were able to control supply as well as the price of garlic,” said the NBI in its complaint.

The NBI found out that Lilia Cruz used VIEVA Phil and Philippine VIEVA Group of Companies as dummy networks to run the cartel.

Among the importers identified with Cruz were Touch Down Trading, Magtutumana ng STa. Rosa Multi-Purpose Cooperative, and Purple Moon Trading.

“The findings of the investigation show the presence of collusion among the BPI officials and importers of VIEVA Phils. The Farmers’ Associations have no capability to complete importation transactions based on their financial statements/annual income tax returns,” said the NBI.

The NBI added that the importers were able to secure the IPs with the help of Cruz, who paid Barron P60,000 per import permit.

Cruz personally handed to Barron P240,000 for the issuance of four IPs for fresh garlic (P60,000 per permit) at his office at BPI in Malate, Manila in October 2012, according to the NBI. (MNS)

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