JPE: End reign of onion cartel

Photograph by Joey Sanchez Mendoza For The Daily Tribune @tribunephl_joey | Retail price of onions is expected to reach as high as P500 to P700 per kilo amid the abrupt spike in the cost of the bulbs, farmers’ group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura warned. It lamented that during the peak harvest, the farmgate prices only ranged between P50 and P80 per kilo.

For Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Juan Ponce Enrile, the country’s problems with onion prices and supply are perplexing because it should not happen with the abundant harvest of the root bulb.

He added that the source of the problem, who is the alleged cartel head, Lilia Cruz, must be removed.

“Why should there be a problem with the smuggling of onion, its high prices, and the existence of a cartel when the solution is too obvious?” Enrile lamented.

He said the government agency in charge of the onion industry can “cancel the business license of (onion cartel architect) Lilia Cruz and never issue a permit for her to do business in the country,” the veteran public servant said.

“She’s cheating the entire nation. Imagine, raking all the money in her pocket while consumers of this country are reeling from high prices,” Enrile added.

The next step, according to Enrile, is for the government to confiscate all of the importations saying “I’m sure they are undervalued.”

“My god, we should not be paralyzed, we must have the common sense to run the government in a practical way,” Enrile, incredulous at the way that Cruz was able to evade being jailed despite the strong evidence against her, said.

Cruz operates the biggest onion cartel in the country, House Appropriations Committee senior vice chairperson Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo said.

Who is Lilia Cruz?

Quimbo presented a matrix that showed how Cruz controlled the onion industry through firms under the Philippine Vieva Group of Companies Inc. which encompasses farming, trading, cold storage and trucking.

She said the Cruz cartel through Phil Vieva was formed after she was exposed way back in 2012 and derisively called the onion queen.

Through Phil Vieva, Cruz continued to dominate the industry despite being blacklisted by the Department of Agriculture as an importer.

“She was able to skirt the ban through the use of the different outfits and partners under Phil Vieva,” Quimbo related.

“It was easy for her to transfer onion purchases through the list of partners that Lilia Cruz kept including the trucking business,” she added.

“We found that the telephone numbers of the companies under Phil Vieva were identical to that of the home office of Lilia Cruz. The House was told that Cruz does not know the officials of the companies under Phil Vieva but they have the same numbers so what are they? connected through a party line?” Quimbo said.

Quimbo recounted how Cruz was able to manipulate onion prices: “First, they target the local farmers who are offered prices with a huge discount.”

Cruz would scare farmers into selling their products at extremely low prices telling them that they do not have cold storage facilities to keep onions from rotting.

She would offer farmers P12 per kilo for their onions. Small farmers do not have a choice but to sell their harvest to the cartel at a ridiculously low price.

In truth, there is still available space in the cold storage facility but since the warehouse is owned by the cartel, they would not give up the available space.

The cartel also resorted to hoarding to justify importation. “If they control the importation, they can also use it as leverage for farmers.” the legislator-economist said.

“Cruz then controls both local supply and importation,” she said.

Spare Marcos from too much trouble

“It should not always be the President who should be relied on for all the problems in the country. There’s a lot on the plate of the President particularly now that the global situation is worsening. He attends to several concerns about the nation’s security,” he said.

“What are we, as Cabinet members, doing? We just sit around and get our salary without doing anything?”

“Let us address the present problem. Cancel the business of the woman and then take over the goods, flood the market, and let her go to court.”

“All problems with the onion supply should come after removing the problem on the cartel. Revoke all her business permits,” Quimbo added.

“How can they not prove the existence of the cartel when all they needed to do was ask farmers on whom they sell their products at huge discounts? I’m sure that they can establish the connections,” Enrile said.

“The suspected smuggler is a recidivist since she has been investigated since 2013 of the same modus. How many times should somebody be caught before the responsible authorities act?”

Enrile also fumed over the holding of an Executive Session in the House as requested by Cruz.

“What is the secret that should require an Executive Session? What is being hidden? What is the security problem regarding onions?,” an incensed Enrile asked.

“They may come out of the House session smelling like onions,” he chided the House members.

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