House panel lifts contempt order on 'hoarding' probe trio

At a glance

  • The House Committee on Agriculture and Food has lifted the contempt order that it slapped on three resource persons connected to its ongoing investigation on agricultural hoarding.

  • (Photo by Ellson Quismorio/ MANILA BULLETIN)

The House Committee on Agriculture and Food has lifted the contempt order it issued against two Argo International Forwarders Inc. officials and their legal counsel after they satisfactorily explained and apologized for their actions during the previous hearing on the agricultural hoarding issue.

This means that Argo President and General Manager Efren Zoleta Jr., Operation Manager John Patrick Sevilla, and lawyer Ryan Jan Cruz are now free to leave the House custodial center, pending the processing of their release.

They were still within the House of Representatives as of this posting.

Committee chairman, Quezon 1st district Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga ordered the lifting of the contempt order Tuesday afternoon, March 14 following a Zoom hearing of the panel. He conformed this to reporters early that evening.

Sevilla had been detained by the House since March 7, or eversince SAGIP Party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta had the trio cited for contempt during the hearing on agricultural hoarding. However, Zoleta and Cruz weren't present.

Earlier Tuesday, Enverga confirmed that Zoleta and Cruz voluntarily turned themselves over to the House Monday afternoon, March 13.

The three were each penalized with a 10-day detention at the House.

Marcoleta stated during the Tuesday hearing that he had no objection to the lifting of the contempt order as long as all the conditions imposed by the committee had been fully complied with.

It was also during the hearing that the trio explained to Marcoleta their actions during the March 7 hearing.

"The data that they had initially filed for compliance is only for 2022. And I understand that they are trying to get as far back as 2020, so that will be three years in a row, that we shall be able to analyze and study the data that will eventually help us hunt these economic predators Mr. Chair," Marcoleta said.

He added that part of the Argo officials' compliance is the submission of their monthly electric consumption data from year 2020 up to 2022.

Cruz, in a letter addressed to the committee, appealed to have the contempt order lifted and committed to submit the remaining documents. He bared that Argo had already begun photocopying the records Monday.

Cruz clarified to the Enverga panel that he had no intention to disregard their orders or delay the proceedings of the investigation.

Zoleta and Sevilla also apologized to the committee and assured the panel of their full cooperation in the ongoing probe, which had been triggered by the recent price surge on onions.

Argo is a cold storage company.