Suspended DA exec maintains innocence over onion crisis
October 31, 2023 | 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines — Suspended Agriculture Assistant Secretary Kristine Evangelista broke her silence yesterday as she maintained innocence after the Office of the Ombudsman ordered the filing of criminal charges against her and 17 others in connection with the onion crisis in 2022 when retail prices of onions reached as high as P720 per kilo.
In a message sent to The STAR, Evangelista said that prior to the allegations against her, she was not accused of any misdeeds.
“Not once have I been accused of corruption. Farmers and stakeholders of the agricultural sector whom I worked with can attest to this,” she said.
Aside from Evangelista, the ombudsman ordered the filing of graft and falsification charges against Food Terminal Inc. vice president for operations John Gabriel Benedict Trinidad III and 16 others after the FTI procured onions from the Bonena Multipurpose Cooperative at higher prices and sold them to Kadiwa stores at lower retail prices.
In a 26-page resolution, the ombudsman said it found probable cause to indict Evangelista and Trinidad with violation of Section 3 (e) of Republic Act 3019 or the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act and falsification of documents as defined and penalized under Article 172 of the Revised Penal Code.
“The campaign to have affordable food for each Filipino should continue. People who know me are aware that I am not corrupt. The people are with me in my advocacy to reform the system for the benefit of the farmers,” she added.
Farmers’ group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) executive director Jayson Cainglet said the ombudsman’s order excluded hoarders who profited from excessive onion prices last year.
“The government officials who were remiss in their duties and did nothing to go after importers and cold storage owners had their way in controlling the release of stocks and created the scenario of artificial supply shortage were identified during the congressional hearings,” Cainglet said.
The Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) did not import white onions when they were asked to do so by onion stakeholders since stocks were dwindling, he added.
Due diligence should have alerted officials of the inherent relationships of companies and personalities as traders, importers, consolidators and cold storage owners, he noted.
“Some of these personalities have pending cases since 2014 filed by the NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) against certain BPI officials and members of the then national garlic action team. The same modus was used, when only a handful of traders and cold storage owners, including onion farmers that acted as conduit and importers, are controlling the supply,” he explained.
Cainglet said that Sinag would rather see those who truly manipulated onion prices and their cohorts in the government charged and convicted.