MANILA – The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Tuesday welcomed a possible probe on the alleged high procurement cost of onions sold at Kadiwa sites.
The DA made the statement amid reports that the Office of the Ombudsman will investigate the procurement process of DA and the Food Terminal Inc. (FTI), where onions were allegedly bought at PHP537/kilogram and sold at only PHP170/kg in Kadiwa sites.
In an interview, DA Assistant Secretary Rex Estoperez said the department is open to such a move, considering that all government transactions are bound by proper procurement measures.
“Welcome naman ‘yung mga ganyang activities kasi (Those activities are welcome because) they have the authority to do that. Ito ‘yung pinapatingnan, the PHP140 million na dinownload sa FTI, tapos binili ng sibuyas (That’s referring to the downloaded PHP140 million to the FTI, followed by onion procurement),” he said.
He noted that even Assistant Secretary Kristine Evangelista expressed the same openness into a possible probe to identify the real situation on the ground.
“You should be ready. Every time you will be asked what happened to the fund. Kasama ‘yun sa budget o, alam mo dapat kung transparent ka. Alam mo dapat i-justify bakit doon napunta ‘yung pondo mo (That’s included in the budget, or you should know when you’re transparent. You should know how to justify where your fund was disbursed),” he added.
“If you have to use government funds, there are regulations. So you need to adhere or else subject to the Commission on Audit. We also have internal audit services,” he said in mixed English and Filipino.
Meanwhile, Estoperez said the DA is set to meet on Friday to discuss other issues including the alleged manipulation by an onion cartel.
Senator Cynthia Villar earlier said that they have already investigated and found the operation of an onion cartel, way back in 2013, which creates an “artificial demand” to manipulate market prices.
At the Laging Handa public briefing, Estoperez said Assistant Secretary James Layug was urged to look into the possible link between the highest bidder for local onion supply and the consignee of smuggled onions.
“Iyon pong pinag-uusapan namin ng atin pong Assistant Secretary for Enforcement and Regulation, si Asec. Layug, na ibangga itong nagmanipula doon sa atin pong nanggagaling na sibuyas sa ating mga sakahan at against doon sa nahuli na mga smuggled; baka iisang tao lang ito, and therefore iyon ang sinasabi na nagmamanipula sila (That’s what we’re talking about… to check on those manipulating the source of onions in farms against those nabbed for smuggled, maybe this is just one person, and therefore being referred as manipulators),” he said.
The DA said it will also look into the operations of onion online sellers.
In another statement, the DA said it has already confiscated PHP78.9 million worth of illegally imported agricultural products.
These were seized from December last year to January, with the latest operation last Jan. 5, confiscating around PHP2.2 million worth of fresh carrots in an Asterzenmed Inc. container.
“DA Assistant Secretary for DA Inspectorate and Enforcement James Layug confirmed that intelligence operations for shipments under the three offending consignees are ongoing,” it said.
President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr., who is also the concurrent chief of the DA, said these smuggled onions must undergo strict phytosanitary inspection, before even being considered for market release.
In a statement, Marcos said the safety of consumers is of prime concern, especially since the source of the onions remained unclear.
“They really have to be very safe kasi just one batch na makalusot, maraming magkakasakit talaga (Many shall be sick). So that’s the situation there,” he said.
The chief executive also raised the option of “tapping third party inspectors” for the phytosanitary inspection, saying that the usual cost of inspection reaches as much as PHP5,000/kg.
The DA, earlier, assured these seized smuggled products will not be sold after being found to be not fit for human consumption. (PNA)