Metro Manila, Philippines —
After nine hearings of the House of Representative’s Committee on Agriculture and Food, two ranking lawmakers have zeroed in on an agricultural trader previously tagged in the smuggling of basic commodities as the supposed operator of the “biggest onion cartel” in the country.

Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo, vice chairperson of the House Appropriations Committee, alleged that Lilia “Lea” Cruz engineered the artificial spike in onion prices late last year until the early part of 2023 through companies involved in all levels of the value chain.

Cruz established the Philippine Vegetable Importers, Exporters and Vendors Association (PhilVIEVA), which Quimbo claimed is being used for operating the alleged onion cartel.

“Leah Cruz operates the biggest onion cartel in the country. She does this through an SEC-registered corporation called Philippine VIEVA Corporation,” Quimbo said.

The lawmaker added that PhilVIEVA controlled the onion supply by buying cheaply from farmers, then cornering the importation of onions.

She added that Cruz can command the price of onions through PhilVIEVA and other dummy companies by timing when, how, and to which traders the stocks should be released.

“Paano ginagamit ang PhilVIEVA para pataasin ang presyo ng sibuyas? (How do they use the PhilVIEVA to raise the prices of onions?)” said Quimbo. “To be able to manipulate the price, you must have control of a lot of supply of onions. This is where PhilVIEVA’s power comes from.”

The House began its investigation into the alleged price manipulation of onions late last year, when its price rose to as much as ₱700 per kilo. Cruz denied in one of the hearings that she’s involved in the smuggling of basic commodities.

In 2014, Cruz was accused in a congressional hearing of monopolizing the importation of onion and garlic. She said there was no truth to the allegation.

Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food, said there could be succeeding hearings on the issue to tie loose ends.

A report containing the panel’s recommendations could be finalized in two weeks, he added.

“Hindi mangyayari ang cartel, hindi magiging successful ang operations kung walang kasabwat (The cartel will not be possible and successful if there is no one behind this). So, we will look back at transcripts and everything so we will see from there,” he said.