NBI files complaint vs traders, gov't officials over onion smuggling

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 18) — The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) on Monday filed a complaint against six individuals allegedly linked to onion smuggling in the country.

In a press briefing on Monday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said government officials are among the respondents facing profiteering and hoarding complaints.

"Kasama and mga opisyal ng gobyerno dito sapagkat ang tingin namin sila ay lumalabas na merong sala sa pagkakataong ito," DOJ Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said.

[Translation: Government officials are included because we think they appear to be at fault here.]

DOJ Usec. Geronimo Sy explained that the complaint stemmed from the sale of around 8,000 bags of onions to the government-owned and controlled corporation Food Terminal Inc. (FTI) by a private cooperative in December 2022.

The NBI reportedly found that each bag contained at least 25 kilograms and that the price per kilogram exceeded ₱500 when the farmgate prices of onions at the time were only below ₱20.

"Ang bentahan sumobra ng ₱500. Ang sabi, walang stock pero nung kinontrata ng P500 plus per kilo, nagkaroon ng stock," Sy said. [Translation: The sale exceeded P500. It was said that there was no stock but when the deal was made for ₱500 plus per kilo, the stocks appeared.]

Sy further said that the respondents are also facing complaints related to falsified documents submitted in the bidding process.

According to the DOJ official, the respondents' strategy was to submit three proposals during the bidding, two of which were fictitious, allowing the preferred bidder to actually win.

He added that ₱134 million from the Department of Agriculture (DA) is involved in the case.

The DOJ officials did not name the respondents so as to not preempt the prosecutors' evaluation.

More cases to come

The Justice chief said the complaint filed by the NBI is only the first of many cases to be filed in relation to the hoarding and smuggling of onions that led to the spike in prices which soared up to P700 per kilogram in late 2022.

"Ito'y isa pa lang sa mga kasong fina-file at dine-develop ng DOJ. There will be other cases that will be filed," Remulla said. "Marami pa kaming tinitingnan na violations na considered na economic crimes. Ito'y simula pa lang -- hanggang sa maging malinaw sa lahat na hindi pwede ang ginagawang price manipulations sa merkado."

[Translation: This is just one of the cases being developed by the DOJ. There will be other cases that will be filed. We are still looking into many violations considered as economic crimes. This is just the beginning -- until it becomes clear to everyone that price manipulation is not allowed in the market.]

In July, the DOJ chief said they were building an economic sabotage case against a network of industry players involved in the alleged onion cartel. Remulla noted that they were looking at six to seven personalities.

This came shortly after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is the head of the DA, directed the DOJ and the NBI to investigate the smuggling of onions and other agricultural products, saying the act was equivalent to economic sabotage.