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Cold storage officials cited for contempt after declining to share info with House committee

THE HOUSE agriculture and food committee cited three officials of a cold storage facility in Nueva Ecija in contempt for declining to present inventory records requested by the panel, which is investigating high onion prices.

On Tuesday, 35 legislators voted to cite in contempt Efren P. Zoleta, Jr., Argo Cold Storage trading president and general manager; the company’s legal counsel Jan Ryan Cruz; and operations manager John Patrick Sevilla.

Mr. Sevilla had refused to turn over the list of red onion farmers who used the company’s services during the last quarter of 2022, when prices for the commodity spiked.

Argo is based in Palayan City, the provincial capital.

According to House rules, the three officials will be detained in Congress for at least 10 days.

Mr. Sevilla was escorted out of the chamber following the contempt order. The House’s sergeant-at-arms was ordered to locate Mr. Zoleta and Mr. Cruz, who were not present at the hearing.

Mr. Sevilla told the committee earlier that Argo was bound by a confidentiality agreement with its clients.

“According to our lawyers, we can’t discuss (or) provide that specific information but we are able to provide (information on) stock movements,” Mr. Sevilla told the panel.

“Inventory records are of paramount importance in this investigation because this is where we’ll identify if there is hoarding,” Marikina Rep. Stella Luz A. Quimbo said at the hearing.

“Confidentiality of business information is not a sufficient reason, and I recommend that we give them another chance to submit,” Ms. Quimbo.

The panel gave Argo Cold Storage one hour to disclose the client list but found submissions by Mr. Sevilla to be inadequate, prompting the contempt vote.

Argo Cold Storage had not replied to a request for comment at the deadline.

In 2019, Argo Cold Storage was among those investigated by the Philippine Competition Commission for alleged involvement in an onion cartel that sought to depress prices. — Beatriz Marie D. Cruz

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