Marcos to smugglers: Your days are numbered

PRESIDENT Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Wednesday vowed to bring to justice hoarders and smugglers of agricultural products.

“We can’t allow them to continue. Enough is enough; we must put a stop to their ways,” Marcos said in Filipino on the sidelines of the Livestock and Aquaculture Philippines Expo 2023 held in Pasay City.

“There are many syndicates that are really operating, and we have to go after them,” he added.

The President had earlier tasked the Department of Justice (DoJ) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to probe groups behind the smuggling and hoarding of onions that resulted in a stiff increase in the product’s price.

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the Livestock and Aquaculture Philippines Expo 2023 held on Wednesday, July 5, 2023. PHOTO BY RENE H. DILAN

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. at the Livestock and Aquaculture Philippines Expo 2023 held on Wednesday, July 5, 2023. PHOTO BY RENE H. DILAN

The DoJ said it would collaborate with the Bureau of Customs, the Department of Agriculture and other concerned government agencies in conducting the probe.

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“I told the DoJ and NBI that they should focus not just on onions but also the syndicates. There are many syndicates operating; we should go after them,” Marcos said, noting that such activities amount to economic sabotage.

The DoJ said perpetrators would be charged with violating Republic Act 10845, or the “Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act of 2016,” which refers to the illegal importation of agricultural products.

They could also face penalties for profiteering, hoarding and smuggling — all recognized as acts of economic sabotage.

The department said it was enhancing the regulatory framework for agricultural imports and strengthening border controls to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez said the President’s directive showed his firm determination to stamp out cartels behind food price manipulation.

“This is a welcome development, a decisive action that manifests the President’s resolve to clamp down on unscrupulous businessmen preying on hapless Filipino consumers and hampering his administration’s efforts to sustain the robust growth of our economy,” Romualdez said in a statement on Wednesday.

“The President’s directive should be enough to deter further supply manipulation of agricultural products and help stabilize prices, especially amid reports that prices of onions are on the rise again,” he added.

Malaca?ang said the President’s directive was based on a memorandum submitted by Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo indicating substantial evidence pointing to the existence of an onion cartel, which could be behind the surge in onion prices in 2022.

Last May, during a hearing of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food chaired by Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga (Quezon, 1st District), Quimbo tagged Lillia, or Leah Cruz, and her family-controlled firm at the center of the alleged onion cartel.

Quimbo said the cartel, which operates through a group of companies, was engaged in various activities in the supply chain such as farming, importation, local trading, warehousing and logistics.

It was Romualdez who called for a congressional probe on onion smuggling after the prices of the agricultural product hit a record high of P700 per kilo in December last year.

Meanwhile, Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. (Cavite, 4th District) said the President’s order for the DoJ and the NBI to launch an investigation showed that Marcos had been following the hearings and that he recognized the huge role they played in helping dismantle the biggest onion cartel in the country and restore the prices of agricultural products to their previous levels.

“It only shows the Chief Executive’s seriousness in protecting the welfare of the public, especially ordinary people — consumers and the farmers who till the land to ensure that we’ll all have food to eat,” Barzaga said in a separate statement.

In the meantime, Romualdez said the House of Representatives is ready to provide authorities with the data uncovered from the committee hearings “to provide them a head start” in their investigation.

“We will continue to monitor prices, especially of basic staples like rice, vegetables, meat, onions, and garlic, to protect our people from hoarding, price manipulation, unreasonable price increases, and other practices in restraint of trade that hamper competition,” he said.

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