The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) filed complaints against more than one hundred individuals for various violations of criminal laws, in connection with corrupt practices and illegal acts that allowed certain importers or group of importers to corner “most of the supply of said commodity, enabling these importers to dictate the price of garlic in the market,” the effects of which was strongly felt by the public, given “the extraordinary and alarming spike in the price of imported or locally produced (native) garlic” from January to July 2014, especially in the month of June 2014.
The NBI's investigation revealed “the presence of collusion among the [Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI)] Officials and importers of VIEVA Phils,” and that their complementary acts brought about unreasonable increase in the price of garlic constituting Cartel Activity.
Among those commended to be charged are public officials, particularly of the BPI, including its former Director, CLARITO M. BARRON, who is specifically charged with violation of Section 3(b), (e) and (j) of Republic Act No. 3019 (otherwise known as the “Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act”), of Article 210 of the Revised Penal Code (Direct Bribery) and Presidential Decree No. 1829 (entitled “Penalizing Obstruction of Apprehension and Prosecution of Criminal Offenders”). The charges for violation of Section 3(b) of R.A. No. 3019 and Article 210 of the Revised Penal Code are in connection with his having allegedly “accepted the amount of Two Hundred Forty Thousand Pesos (Php 240,000.00) during his incumbency as BPI Director from Ms. Lilybeth Valenzuela in consideration for the issuance of Import Permits to MS. VALENZUELA.” On the other hand, the charges for violation of Section 3(e) and (,j) of R.A. No. 3019 are for “willfully giving the importers under VIEVA Phil., headed by Subject LILIA/LEA CRUZ unwarranted benefits, advantage, and preference in the performance of their function as the issuing authority of IPs/PQCs” and for “knowingly approving or granting IPs/PQCs in favor of some members of VIEVA Phil. who are not qualified to be issued IPs/PQCs.”
In sum, the NBI found violations of the following penal provisions:
1. Section 3(e), R.A. No. 3019. See Annex “A” 2 hereof for a list of those recommended to be charged and a summary of the findings and recommendations of the NBI);
2. Section 3(j), R.A. No. 3019 (see Annex “A”);
3. Section 3(b) of R.A. No 3019, otherwise known as the “Anti- Graft and Corrupt Practice Act”. See Annex “B” hereof for a list of those recommended to be charged and a summary of the findings and recommendations of the NBI;
4. “Direct Bribery” defined and penalized under Article 210, Revised Penal Code (RPC), as amended (see Annex “B”);
5. Republic Act No. 7581 ("The Price Act"), particularly Section 5 thereof (Illegal Acts of Price Manipulation). See Annex ‘C” hereof for a list of those recommended to be charged and a summary of the findings and recommendations of the NBI);
6. “Monopolies and combinations in restraint of trade” defined and penalized under Article 186, RPC, as amended (see Annex “C”);
7. Presidential Decree No. 1829 “Penalizing Obstruction of Apprehension and Prosecution of Criminal Offenders”, particularly Section 1 (b), i.e., altering, destroying, suppressing or concealing any paper, record, document, or object, with intent to impair its verity, authenticity, legibility, availability, or admissibility as evidence in any investigation of or official proceedings in, criminal cases, or to be used in the investigation of, or official proceedings in, criminal cases. See Annex “D” hereof for a list of those recommended to be charged and a summary of the findings and recommendations of the NBI; and
8. “Using fictitious name and concealing true name” defined and penalized under Article 178, RPC, as amended. The NBI recommended the prosecution of LILIA MATABANG CRUZ for violation of Article 178 for using a name other than her true name publicly. Subject used the name LEA CRUZ and LEAH CRUZ in various instances.
The complaints resulted from the investigation conducted by the NBI upon the directive of Secretary of Justice LEILA M. DE LIMA, arising from instructions from the President, “to conduct an investigation into possible profiteering, hoarding, carter-like activities and other acts and practices in restraint of trade resulting in the manipulation of the supply and prices of garlic and other prime commodities.” The investigation was to be conducted in coordination with the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Department of Agriculture (DA), Department of Finance (DOF), Bureau of Customs (BOC), and the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA).
The NBI is set to file two (2) separate complaints before the Department of Justice and the Office of the Ombudsman, as follows:
• Before the DOJ, violation of:
1. Republic Act No. 7581 (“The Price Act”);
2. Article 186 (Monopolies and combinations in restraint of trade), Revised Penal Code, as amended;
3. Article 178 (Using fictitious name and concealing true name), RPC; and
4. Presidential Decree No. 1829 “Penalizing Obstruction of Apprehension and Prosecution of Criminal Offenders”; and
• Before the Office of the Ombudsman:
1. Violations of Section 3(b), (e) and (j) of Republic Act No. 3019; and
2. Article 210 (Direct Bribery), Revised Penal Code.
Aside from the recommendation to file the foregoing charges, the NBJ likewise found that certain documents (legal requirements required to be submitted by applicant importers and other allied documents) appear to have been deliberately falsified and the signatures therein clearly forged, and were used and submitted by the importers of VIEVA Phil., in conspiracy with some BPI officials, for the award of most of the import permits, to the prejudice of other importers. Thus, it appears that “some BPI employees were either grossly neglectful, careless or irresponsible with their duties, especially in inspecting and verifying the authenticity of said documents because said documents were apparently falsified.”
However, efforts to acquire the original copies of aforementioned documents through summons were unsuccessful. Said documents are apparently being withheld by the uncooperative subjects of investigation. Consequently, a subpoena duces tecum was transmitted to ATTY. PAZ J. Since the original copies of said documents, together with documents containing signatures of the Subjects, are significant in order to establish whether or not the signatures affixed or appearing on the questioned documents were indeed forged, the NBI recommended that the possible violation of Article 172, falsification by Private Individual and Use of Falsified Documents in relation to Article 171 (1) of the Revised Penal Code, as amended, be investigated further by this Bureau.
It may be recalled that, last September 2014, the Department of Justice, through the Office for Competition, completed its own report on the garlic industry that made the following three major points: 1) there was no shortage of supply and, in fact, there were more than adequate stocks of garlic; 2) majority of the 'import permits' issued was granted only to one preferred group; and 3) due to a cornering of supply, this group can dictate the high prices.
"Although the NBI and the Office for Competition have submitted the results of their respective investigations, our work is far from over,” said Secretary De Lima. “I have given the NBI instructions to proceed with the recommended further investigation into other possible criminal charges and, as for those already filed, it is now up to the National Prosecution Service of the DOJ and the Office of the Ombudsman to determine whether the complaints and evidence submitted by the NBI sufficiently constitute probable cause to proceed with the filing of cases before the proper courts.
“However, we must likewise further delve into the policy implications of these findings, especially considering the revelations of the manipulations that were made possible through collusion with government agencies like the Bureau of Plant Industry," continued Secretary De Lima. “We urge the relevant government agencies, especially the Department of Agriculture, to look into its existing policies in order to prevent further exploitations of our government processes in order to protect the consuming public and, thus, better promote the national interest.”
It may be noted that the BPI's primary mandate is plant research, implementation of rules and regulations concerning crop productions and protection, the dissemination of information regarding developments in plant production and packaging, and the implementation of Presidential Decree No. 1433 (P.D. 1433) otherwise known as the "Plant Quarantine Law of 1978," Section 17 of which authorized the Director, with the approval of the Secretary of Agriculture, to promulgate such Special Quarantine Orders, rules and regulations to implement the provisions of said Decree. The NBI, in both their complaints before the DOJ and the Office of the Ombudsman, noted that neither Bureau of Plant Quarantine Administrative Order No. 1, s. 1981, nor BPI Quarantine Administrative Order No. 1, S. 2005, provides for any “authority of the BPI to allocate importation volumes among importers.” Furthermore, it noted that, while garlic importation was originally prohibited under Republic Act No. 1296, said law was repealed by R.A. No. 8187, or the Agricultural Tarrification Act, thereby lifting all existing quantitative restrictions, such as import quotas or prohibitions, imposed on agricultural products, and replacing them with tariffs.