Ombudsman Samuel Martires has meted out a six-month preventive suspension on several officials of the Department of Agriculture and the Food Terminal Incorporated over an ongoing probe into the purchase of onions for the Kadiwa Food Hub project.

In an order, Martires slapped the preventive suspension without pay against DA Assistant Secretary Kristine Evangelista, DA Administrative Officer V Eunice Biblanias, DA OIC-Chief Accountant Lolita Jamela, FTI Vice President for Operations John Gabriel Benedict Trinidad III and FTI Budget Division Head Juanita Lualhati.

While Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban and FTI President Robert Tan were included in the complaints for grave misconduct, gross neglect of duty, and conduct prejudicial, they were not covered by the suspension order.

‘’It appears that the evidence of guilt [against] respondents Evangelista, Biblanias, Jamela, Trinidad III, and Lualhati is strong, and the charges against them involve grave misconduct and gross neglect of duty, which may warrant their removal from office,’’ Martires said in his order.

“Considering further that the respondents’ continued stay in the office may influence potential witnesses and may prejudice the case filed against them due to their continued access to documentary evidence relative thereto, this office exercises its power to place respondents under preventive suspension,” the Ombudsman added.

The complaints stemmed from the allegedly questionable procurement of onions by FTI from Bonena Multi-Purpose Cooperative.

Martires said the DA, through Panganiban, entered into a memorandum of agreement with FTI for the Kadiwa Food Hub project.

The FTI, on the other hand, signed a letter of agreement with Bonena for the delivery of 8,845 bags (approximately 28 kilograms/bag) of onions as part of the said Kadiwa Food Hub.

“Documents further show that violations of Republic Act No. 3019 (Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act) in relation to Republic Act No.

9184 or the Procurement Law were allegedly committed by the respondents in relation to the said Kadiwa Food Hub Project, i.e. lack of parameters in the selection of cooperative that will supply and deliver the onions; questionable advance payment of 50% of the contract price; non-compliance of the MOA; partial implementation of the contract; and doubtful deliveries by Bonena,” Martires said in his order.