Manila, Philippines — Farmers’ group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura yesterday lamented the Office of the Ombudsman’s order to file charges against Department of Agriculture (DA) Assistant Secretary Kristine Evangelista, but excluding hoarders who profited from excessive onion prices last year
“It is very unfortunate that Assistant Secretary Evangelista was first to be charged while… those already identified by the marathon hearings of Congress that hoarded and profited from excessive onion prices last year up to early this year remain untouched,” SINAG executive director Jayson Cainglet said.
“The government officials who were remiss of their duties and did nothing to go after importers and cold storage owners had their way in controlling the release of stocks and created the scenario of artificial supply shortage were identified during the congressional hearings,” Cainglet added.
Aside from Evangelista, the ombudsman has also ordered the filing of graft and falsification charges against Food Terminal Inc. (FTI) vice president for operations John Gabriel Benedict Trinidad III and 16 other individuals.
Retail prices of onions reached as high as P720 per kilo last year amid hoarding and manipulation.
“The BPI (Bureau of Plant Industry) did not import white onions when the onion stakeholders asked them to import since stocks were dwindling. They have no actual monitoring and control of onions, whether imported or locally produced,” Cainglet said.
Due diligence should have alerted these officials of the inherent relationships of these companies and personalities as trader, importer, consolidator and cold storage owners, according to the SINAG official.
“Some of these personalities have pending cases since 2014 filed by the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) against certain BPI officials then and members of the then national garlic action team (NGAT). The same modus was used, when only a handful of traders and cold storage owners, including onion farmers that acted as conduit and importers, are controlling the supply,” he said.
“Why were certain individuals already charged by the National Bureau of Investigation and named by the Senate in 2014 as involved in uncompetitive behavior still allowed to import onions and continue with their trading activities?” he added.
Cainglet said that SINAG would rather see those that truly manipulated onion prices and their cohorts in the government to be charged and convicted.