The House Committee on Agriculture and Food on Tuesday cited for contempt the officials and a lawyer of a cold storage facility for their refusal to turn over the service contracts of their clients due to a supposed confidentiality clause of their agreement.
Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga, the panel chairman, ordered the contempt against Argo President and General Manager Efren Zoleta, Argo operations manager Patrick John Sevilla and legal counsel John Ryan Cruz.
“Forty-nine members are present, the two-thirds required is 33. Having 35 votes Mr. Efren Zoleta Jr., Mr. John Sevilla, John Ryan Cruz are cited in contempt,” Enverga said.
“We have a facility here. We will apply the full force of the rule—10 days in Congress,” Enverga said.
According to Enverga, Sevilla and his colleagues have been given enough time to submit the list of their clients.
Citing lawyers of Argo cold storage that is based in Nueva Ecija, Sevilla said they couldn’t provide the information of their clients, who stored red onions in their facility at the peak of agricultural hoarding reports last year.
“According to our lawyers we can’t discuss, we can’t provide that specific information but we are able to provide stock movement,” said Sevilla.
Sevilla, who attended the hearing, was immediately detained. Zoleta and Cruz did not show up. The committee ordered the House Sergeant-at-Arms to locate Zoleta and Cruz.
But Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta said the documents provided by Argo have no confidentiality clause.
“Even assuming that the word confidential is in any page, it does not affect the entire service contract that confidentiality refers to 3rd parties,” said Marcoleta.
Also, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga Jr. said Argo’s documents are “binding already.”
“Refusal to produce any proof, papers document or records that are relevant to the inquiry and relevant to the person concerned. This is very specific in our rules. You cannot use the excuse that you cannot bring documents because of the confidential agreement,” he said.
“Let me read to you and tell your lawyer, under Section 11 of rules of procedures governing inquiry, in aid of legislation, the committee might punish any person for contempt by votes of 2/3 of all the members present,” Barzaga added.
Sevilla, however, said a soft copy of the service agreement bears a watermark stating the confidentiality clause.
For her part, Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo said these records are very important for them to secure the daily inventory records of all cold storage facilities.
“I just want to note that the inventory records are of paramount importance in this investigation amid hoarding issues that affect the onion industry,” Quimbo added.
Meanwhile, the committee has summoned “Sibuyas Queen” Lilia Cruz to its next hearing.
Enverga ordered the issuance of subpoenas against Cruz and Ernesto Francisco of YOM Trading for their next hearing on Tuesday.
Barzaga said Cruz and Francisco must be cited in contempt “if in the next scheduled hearing, they would not be again able to attend.”
Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez on Tuesday backed the decision of the House Committee on Agriculture to cite in contempt three persons in the panel’s investigation into reports of price manipulation and hoarding of onions.
“I am in full support of the decision of the Committee on Agriculture,” Speaker Romualdez said.
He pointed out that the committee’s move is in accordance with the exercise of its mandate to pursue the congressional inquiry aimed at stopping price manipulation and hoarding to bring down the price of onions.
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