Onion, garlic importers face off in smuggling probe

Posted at 02/11/14 8:11 PM

MANILA - A congressional investigation on the alleged smuggling of onions and garlic in the country on Tuesday turned into a confrontation between rival importers.

The House committee on Good Government and Public Accountability acted on a resolution filed by Dasmarinas Rep. Elpidio Barzaga calling for an inquiry into the alleged P200-million scam in the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI).

The scam allegedly allowed a certain Leah Cruz and her dummy companies to monopolize the importation of garlic and onion.

Cruz faced the hearing wherein she denied allegations made against her.

She said similar allegations were made against her at the NBI, Department of Justice, Ombudsman, and the Senate committee on agriculture.

Cruz said the complaints came about because of a certain Atty. Ariel Genaro Jawed and the Philippine Vegetable Importers and Exporters.

She fired back and claimed that members the group, including President Lillibeth Valenzuela, are facing charges of smuggling of agricultural products.

"There is no such monopoly by Leah Cruz," she said, adding that she is part of an association of 20 importer- companies, 8 exporters, 200 vendors, and 100 affiliated farmers' cooperatives.

She also said the companies granted import permits by the Bureau of Plant Industry are not owned by her drivers, clerks, and househelpers.

Prior to Cruz's testimony, Valenzuela made her own presentation before the committee on the alleged monopoly in the issuance of sanitary and phytosanitary clearance or import permit for garlic and onion.

Valenzuela dismissed Cruz's claims. "Matagal na nila sinasabi iyan. May ebidensiya ba sila? Ipakita nila. Iyung bitbit kong ebidensiya napakatibay."

"Nag-aaway ang mga importers, smugglers at mga sindikato sa agrikultura, pero ang real issue dito ay ang malawakang importation ng sibuyas at bawang na syang isa sa mga pangunahing na pumapatay sa lokal na industrya at magsasaka. Dapat itigil ang polisiya ng importasyong ito at dapat palaguin ang local na industrya at mas tulungan ang mga lokal na magsasaka," Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said in a statement regarding the hearing.