House agri panel to issue show cause order vs. resource persons who skipped hearing

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 21) — The House Committee on Agriculture and Food will issue show cause orders against resource persons who failed to attend its hearing on the alleged hoarding and price manipulation of onions on Tuesday.

Lawmakers expressed dismay over the absence of eight resource persons, mostly officers of cold storage facilities. They cited medical reasons for their absence, including upper respiratory tract infection and COVID-19.

Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo and Iloilo 1st District Rep. Janette Garin questioned why many of the invited speakers are sick and absent.

"It is really very, very frustrating. Mukhang pati ba naman sa absences may cartel [It seems there is even a cartel in absences]. I move that we issue a show cause order to the group SUPER5 explaining, and Rivson as well, explaining why we should not cite them in contempt for failure to give us sufficient basis for their absence," Quimbo said.

Garin also voiced her dismay.

"Siyempre we empathize with the patient. Pero we have to avoid abuse of science. Kasi hindi naman kasi pwede may konting ubo, may konting sinat." she said.

[Translation: Of course we empathize with the patient. But we have to avoid abuse of science. We cannot allow this every time someone has a mild cough, a slight fever.]

"It's very unusual for a hearing to have a lot of patients. Moreover, this is not the first hearing...Ang pinaka importante kasi dito, if wala kang tinatago [The most important thing here is if you're not hiding anything], if you are not involved in economic sabotage, you will not be hiding," Garin added.

A certain Lilia Cruz, the businesswoman tagged in issues hounding the onion industry, did not show up for the hearing. Her lawyer said she had been confined in the hospital since March 19 and is 'undergoing medical procedures.'

Cavite 4th District Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. questioned why Cruz could not attend the hearing through videoconferencing.

House Medical Director Luis Bautista agreed that Cruz should be confined given her condition, but this does not hinder her participation virtually.

The panel's chairman, Quezon 1st District Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga, tasked Bautista to personally visit Cruz and Marlene Lamata of Rivson Storage to check on their condition and report if they are fit to attend the hearings online.

Upon examination of the medical certificate submitted by a certain Grace Ong, one of the resource speakers, Garin said an upper respiratory tract infection is not a valid reason for absence.

She pointed out that there are no laboratory tests attached and the condition does not warrant isolation.

SAGIP Party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta urged the panel to take action on the absence of many resource speakers in the hearing.

He said their non-participation will prevent them from uncovering the truth about possible hoarding, smuggling and price manipulation of onions.

During the hearing, lawmakers grilled Bureau of Plant Industry Director Glenn Panganiban on why the Bureau of Customs released imported onions in February and March last year.

They pointed out that the last import clearance was issued November 2021.

Lawmakers also asked representatives of the cold storage facilities about the increase in prices last year amid a supposed oversupply of onions.

Quimbo wants to look into the possible collusion between trading and cold storage companies in controlling the stocks of onions.