Two pro-administration congressmen urged Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala to take a leave of absence pending the outcome of the probe being conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation on his alleged links to the “garlic cartel.”
Congressmen Sherwin Gatchalian of the Nationalist Peoples Coalition and Albee Benitez of Negros Ocidental made the call for Alcala to clean up his “mess” before he could resume office.
Gatchalian urged the Agriculture chief to heed the example of former Health Secretary Enrique Ona who took a one-month leave of absence from his department while the NBI was investigating the contract on vaccines procured by the Department of Health.
Ona has since resigned his post after his leave was extended by Malacanang. President Benigno Aquino III had accepted Ona’s resignation.
“Secretary Alcala should face a thorough probe by the NBI since his being linked to the garlic cartel is a very serious allegation that must be investigated to the fullest,” Gatchalian said.
But party list Rep. Jonathan de la Cruz of the House Independent Bloc wanted Alcala to set for himself a deadline and prove his innocence.
Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga said that Alcala deserves due process.
Rep. Silvestre Bello III of I-BAP party list and House deputy majority leader Bolet Banal agreed there was no need for Alcala to take a brak from public office, adding that to take a leave of absence should be Alcala’s personal decision.
The garlic mess was not the first time allegations of corruption have been hurled against Alcala with several plunder and graft cases having been filed against him with the Ombudsman but he managed to keep his post, Gatchalian said.
A whistle-blower implicated the agriculture secretary in the garlic racket.
Elizabeth “Lilybeth” Valenzuela, a garlic importer, said former Bureau of Plant Industry Director Clarito Barron had told importers that they must have Alcala’s blessings so they could be issued the import permits.
The NBI said Barron was paid P60,000 per import permit by garlic importers.
Valenzuela also pointed to Lilia Matabang Cruz, alias Leah Cruz, as the favored importer who got the lion’s share of import permits for garlic and onion.
The NBI probe stemmed from a price spike in mid-2014 that saw the price of a kilo of garlic skyrocketing to as high as P300 a kilo. Prices are currently within the range of P80 to P100 a kilo, according to DA monitoring.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the NBI was looking into the allegations against Alcala.
“It’s an ongoing investigation. We will look into all allegations, including that against Secretary Alcala, but for the meantime the evidence is sufficient for the others,” De Lima was quoted as saying.