MANILA- The Bureau of Plant Industry on Tuesday insisted that the agency played its part in lowering garlic prices when it spiked to P200 per kilogram last May.
The bureau, an agency under the Department of Agriculture, made the statement after it received a dressing down from Sen. Cynthia Villar at the Senate on Monday.
Villar, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, had reprimanded the bureau for failing to stop operations of garlic cartels, believed to be behind excessive garlic prices.
Bureau Director Vivencio Mamaril said the agency's main responsibility in terms of importation is to ensure the safety of agricultural products coming into the country. The mandate includes the issuance of sanitary and phyto-sanitary clearances, which indicate that these products are free from crop diseases and insects.
Mamaril said the DA immediately acted upon the reported garlic price increase, and called for a meeting with garlic traders and importers. This then caused a reduction in garlic prices.
He also pointed out that the increase only lasted for two weeks.
"It happened for approximately two weeks. Pero hindi biglang P200; dahan-dahan, saka bumaba," he said in a phone interview.
(It happened for approximately two weeks. But it did not immediately rise to P200; it went up gradually and then decreased.)
"Immediately, kinausap naman ng DA. Sa palagay ko, hindi naman kami remiss on that part, kasi it did not last for one month."
(DA immediately talked (with the players involved). I don't think we were remiss on that part because it did not last for a month.)
Mamaril also noted that there were still import shipments coming in when the price increased.
But Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) Chairman Arsenio Balisacan said a sudden increase in prices on a short period of time could be an indication of cartel manipulation.
"Kasi, hindi mo pwede mapatagalan ang increase ng presyo. Magkakaroon na ng other suppliers coming in," said Balisacan.
(You cannot really prolong the price increase. There will be other suppliers coming in.)
"Usually, 'pag may cartel na ganun, collusions, biglang spike, pababa 'yan after a while. Depende sa commodity, it can be as short as two weeks, it can be a month," he added.
(That usually happens when there's a cartel, collusions, spikes, then decreases. Depending on the commodity, it can be as short as two weeks, it can be a month.)
However, Balisacan said there are other factors that should also be considered, such as the volume of approved imports, local and international market climate and the supply of crops based on the season.
"Maaari nangyari, na-misassess ng DA ang kailangang importation. Baka masyado mababa ang evaluation ngayon kaysa kailangan ng merkado. That shortfall could lead to [a] spike in prices," he said.
(It could be that the DA misassessed the necessary importation. The evaluation might have been too low now compared to market demand. That shortfall could lead to [a] spike in prices.)
"It does not have to be cartel nga. Kung repeatedly nga ganun nangyayari, then you become more suspicious," Balisacan added.
(It does not have to be a cartel. If it happens repeatedly, then you become more suspicious.)
The PCC is still waiting for official communication from Villar before launching an investigation on allegations of cartel manipulation of garlic prices.
At Monday's Senate hearing, Villar had asked the PCC to conduct an investigation as she threatened to file charges against the agency.
Meanwhile, Mamaril said the National Garlic Development Plan will look at possible ways to increase local garlic supply.