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Prosecution of garlic smugglers sought

By: Vanne Elaine P. Terrazola

Senator Cynthia Villar chided Monday the Department of Justice (DoJ) for failing to prosecute smugglers of garlic.

Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, expressed dismay over the DoJ’s failure to act on the smuggling of garlic and other agricultural products despite their knowledge of traders who have been involved in the illegal activity since 2014.

Not a single garlic importer was charged since the DoJ’s Office for Competition released its report on those who were responsible for the increasing prices of garlic in 2014.

“Hindi man lang nagsample ng kahit isa, sa rice, onion, garlic. Wala man lang maisample miski isa. Why? What’s wrong with you? You are entitled to prosecute smugglers…Hanggang hindi tayo nagsasampol, hindi titigil yan (smuggling). It will never stop,” a visibly irked Villar said during the hearing on garlic prices Monday.

After scolding the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), Villar also berated DoJ Assistant Secretary George Ortha II when he said he had no knowledge on the progress of the cases.

“Bakit wala kang alam, pupunta ka dito. Hindi ka ba naawa sa sarili nagmumukha kang tanga…That is the question being asked from you tapos sasabihin mo wala kang alam…Pumunta ka dito hindi ka nag-aral,” she told Ortha.

But Ortha, in his defense, said they forwarded the 2014 report to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) which conducted further investigation into the cartels and later filed a complaint before the National Prosecution Service.

He said the charges have since been pending and still awaiting resolutions from the National Prosecution Service.

Villar also hit BPI officials for giving the cartels import permits in the last three years.

The 2014 DoJ report found 55 importers believed to have been involved in the smuggling of garlic. These were controlled mainly by a certain “Leah Cruz” and three other players who manipulate garlic prices.