Romualdez wants 'airtight' case vs. onion smugglers

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 21) — House Speaker Martin Romualdez wants authorities to build a strong case against those behind an alleged onion cartel in the country.

“I call on the concerned authorities like the National Bureau of Investigation, the Philippine Competition Commission, and the Department of Agriculture to work together to stamp out this cartel and spare our people from further suffering caused by their unscrupulous trade practices,” Romualdez said in a statement Sunday.

“The extensive hearings conducted by the House have already provided good leads which our authorities can follow to build an air tight case and prosecute those involved,” he added.

The House Committee on Agriculture and Food held nine hearings on the issue. Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo alleged that Lilia "Lea" Cruz was behind the artificial increase in onion prices through companies involved in all levels of the value chain.

"Leah Cruz operates the biggest onion cartel in the country. She does this through a SEC-registered corporation called Philippine VIEVA Corporation," Quimbo said.

Cruz denied she had a hand in the soaring prices of onion, which went up to ₱700 per kilogram in 2022.

Romualdez said unfair trade practices may carry a fine of up to ₱100 million and prison time of up to seven years if it is proven that businesses took part in anti-competitive agreements. The fine could be tripled if the practices involved agricultural products named in the Price Act.

Quezon Rep. Mark Enverga, chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food, said there could be succeeding hearings on the issue to tie up loose ends in the probe.