MANILA —Lilia “Leah” Cruz, tagged by some as "Mrs. Sibuyas" as she is allegedly behind the smuggling of onions in the country, returned to the House of Representatives Wednesday afternoon, nearly 10 years after another congressional investigation on similar allegations.
As she did back in 2014, Cruz flatly denied all the allegations.
"Thank you for inviting me today, I am so grateful to this honorable body for giving me this opportunity to be heard and to clear my name amidst all the false, baseless and unfounded claims reported in the media of my alleged involvement in the smuggling of onions and garlic," Cruz told lawmakers.
"While my detractors with their relentless attacks may have been successful in unfairly and unjustly tarnishing my name, honor and reputation in the eyes of the public, and adversely impacting my family, I am nonetheless comforted in the truth and justice and with a clear conscience, time and again I have been implicated in the smuggling of onions and garlic," Cruz also said.
"Yet, time after time, my faceless accusers have yet to prove their allegation. I challenge whoever they are to muster enough courage to come out in the open instead of remaining anonymous to show evidence of my complicity instead of feeding lies behind my back," Cruz added.
"Yun nga po ang nakakalungkot kasi bakit tatawagin nila akong Mrs. Sibuyas? Or kahit anong paratang tungkol sa Mrs. Sibuyas," Cruz said in response to Zambales 1st District Rep. Jeffrey Khonghun.
Cruz introduced herself as an "agripreneur" who helps farmers and a leader of the Vegetable Importer Exporter Vendors and Farmers Association of the Philippines. She is engaged in the trading of vegetables.
Cruz claimed that the price of onion is being sabotaged.
"Hindi po naging makatarungan itong pagkakaroon ng napakalaking problema, na sinabotahe magmula buwan ng Agosto hanggang buwan ng Disyembre. Talaga pong sabihin na natin — sabotahe ang ginawa nila at sinadya po ito," Cruz said.
Cruz however declined to name names when pressed by lawmakers.
Cavite 4th District Rep. Elpidio Barzaga recalled that he already had Cruz investigated by Congress in 2014 as she was reportedly tagged by the media as the "Queen of Onions."
"Correct ko lang po kayo, your honor — not onion queen [ang] sinasabi. Garlic po 'yan," Cruz said in response.
On September 26, 2013, Barzaga filed House Resolution 341 which triggered an investigation where Cruz faced off with one of her accusers at that time.
Cruz however said that the case filed against her remains pending because the witnesses against her are not available. The committee report issued in December 2015 said Congress did not proceed to investigate, citing the pendency of a case before the Ombudsman.
Cruz said the price of onions should be based on farmgate prices. For her, retail prices should be around P120 a kilo of onion only.
Cruz also denied she is a hoarder.
Two lawmakers, meanwhile, flagged Department of Agriculture officials for their use of data regarding the sufficiency of the onion supply.
"Ito po 'yung industry situationer na binabanggit natin kanina. Madame Samala ito po yun. 2011 'yung base po ninyo is 94M ang population natin. Per capital is 1.94. Dumating ang 2022 ang base inyo is 111M. 2.3 ang per capita. Tignan po ninyo 2018 ang demand natin is 247, 538 MT. Ang total production local and imported 280747 MT. Ang sufficiency level is 113 percent. Wala tayo problema sa supply," Sagip Party List Rep. Rodante Marcoleta said.
"Sumunod 2019, 98 percent pero konting konti lang 2 percent pero na-compensate na ng 113. 2020 113 percent ang sufficiency level sobra pa sa 100. 2021 120 percent sufficiency level. 2022 last year 120 percent ang sufficiency level bakit wala tayo sibuyas talagang mayroong hoarding Mr. Chair. Sarili niyong data ito binigay niyo sa amin. 'Pag ang isang bansa 120 percent sufficiency level at wala 'yung commodity. 'Di ba mayroong hoarder? "Marcoleta added.
"Bakit po wala? Talagang merong hoarding. Ang prublema lang natin ngayon, alam naman ninyo kung nasaan eh kasi nga minomonitor mo lang yung nag iimport, yung trader di niyo minomonitor. Pero nagtataka naman ako bakit alam niyong 120 percent ang sufficiency level pero walang yung commodity. Talagang tataas talaga,"Marcoleta also said.
"Kinukuwestyon ko sa iyo, sapgkat 111 million ang basis niyo last year sabi ko nga sa iyo yung mga bagong panganak, mga sanggol, hindi pa kumakain ng sibuyas 'yan tanggalin mo naman yun. 'Yung mga dalagang bagong toothbrush ayaw niyan kumain ng sibuyas lalo na kung merong date marami yan. Masyadong malaki yung 111. Gayunpaman yung sufficiency level 120 percent pagkatapos di mo makita ang sibuyas? " Marcoleta pointed out.
For Marikina 2nd District Rep. Stella Quimbo, one of the top economists of the House, the flaw maybe in the government's data for demand. Quimbo believes unless they can explain, the data may just be an excuse for the rising price of onions.
"Ang nakikita kong discrepancy is in the demand data from 2011 to 2021 the increase in annual demand is modest which is believable. Kasi taun taon naman ang mag dadrive ng increase in demand for onion is really just population growth," Quimbo said.
"However from 2021 to 2022 there was a 39 percent increase in demand in onion. Yun ang para sa akin bagong misteryo. Paano niyo ipapaliwanag yun? Taun taon halos 5 percent lang ang pagtaas ng demand," Quimbo added.
"May paliwanag ba kayo kasi kung wala kayong magandang paliwanag ng 39 percent increase in demand, iniimbento ninyo ang datos na ito at jinajustify niyo ang mataas na presyo ng sibuyas. So yan ang ipaliwanag niyo muna," Quimbo also said.
"There is a formula, we don't change the formula. We just need the data being provided to us by the LGU's consolidated," Arnold Timoteo, Director of the High Value Crops Development Progra, said in response.
The Committee will continue its investigation next Tuesday.
House of Representatives, Mrs. Sibuyas, onion smuggling, agriculture, ANC, ANC promo