MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Agriculture has made good its threat to blacklist 43 garlic importers who allegedly did not ship in enough of the product, thus causing prices to shoot up in May.
However, while the agency said it will be auditing all registered importers to make sure no cartels take root again this is about all they can do since they can’t file charges against errant traders.
The banned firms are among the 154 garlic importers in the country and include both those that applied for what is known as a sanitary and photosanitary permit, a requirement for shipping in the product, as well as those that intentionally did not apply for one.
From January to June, 70,000 metric tons of garlic was supposed to arrive in the country. The banned firms accounted for only 19,252 metric tons.
The country produces only 7,468 metric tons annually and thus relies heavily on imports to meet the yearly demand of 130,000 metric tons.
Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan explained that projected shortfall is computed by using the supply already committed as a base assumption, “tapos ‘di nila pararatinging, eh ‘di distorted po ang data natin (and then they fail to ship it in, so our data ends up distorted).”
Secretary Manny Piñol admitted “ang hirap i-establish ng (it’s so hard to establish) economic sabotage,” the only case that can be filed against the errant importers.
“First, you have to establish na … talagang may (that there really was) collaboration among them … What proof should you present to the court?” he said.
Thus, “the best punitive action that we could think of actually is just to ban them, blacklist them,” he added.
Bloomberg TV sought out the banned importers but some of the addresses or phone numbers registered with the Bureau of Plant Industry were incorrect.
Red Soil Agri Trading, one of the blacklisted firms, insisted it did not maliciously hold back shipments.
“Dapat titingnan nila ‘yung (They should have looked at the situation on the) ground,” the firm’s manager Eric de Vera said on the phone.
While admitting they applied for an import permit, he said they had to abort the shipment when they ran out of capital.
The firm said the government should also allow them to import from countries other than China and India.
At the moment, the DA is focused on increasing local production.
Aside from the P200-million budget for a garlic and onion development plan, it also intends to launch a loan program for farmers with the aim of meeting 50 percent of national demand in five years.