THE Department of Agriculture (DA), headed by President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., has allowed the importation of 21,060 metric tons (MT) of yellow and red onions amid its skyrocketing prices in the market.

In a letter signed by DA Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban to all Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI)-licensed onion importers on January 6, 2023, he said the department will issue sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance (SPSIC) for the importation of 3,960 MT of fresh yellow onions and 17,100 MT of red onions to stabilize the continuous increase of its price and to address supply gap prior to peak harvest in 2023.

It said the SPSICs will be issued from January 9 to January 13 and only those who will submit their application within the same period will be considered “regardless if the target volume was reached or not.”

One SPSIC of 25 metric tons for yellow onions and two SPSIC for 50 metric tons for red onions will be issued equally to all licensed and applicant importers.

Imported onions should arrive in the country on or before January 27, or else shipments will be considered invalid and will be returned to origin.

The Ports of Manila-South Harbor, Subic, Cebu, Davao and Cagayan de were identified as ports of entry of the shipment.

Since the holiday season in December, prices of onions soared to around P600 to P720 per kilo.

On Monday, January 9, Senate Committee on agriculture, food, and agrarian reform chairperson Senator Cynthia Villar expressed belief that a cartel is behind the high prices of onions, a staple vegetable in Filipino households.

“Naimbestigahan na namin ‘yan. Since 2013, talagang may onion cartel. ‘Yung namimili sa farmers, binabarat nila ang farmers, sila rin ang nag-iimport so they have the complete control sa supply kaya nagke-create minsan sila ng artificial demand para ma-iincrease nila ang price kasi nasa kanila lahat ng supply. So ‘yun ang dapat nating i-solve na hindi mangyayari ‘yun,” she said in an interview with reporters.

(We have investigated that. Since 2013, there really is an onion cartel. Those who buy from farmers, they burden the farmers, they are also the ones who import so they have the complete control over the supply so they sometimes create artificial demand so they can increase the price because they have all the supply. So that’s what we have to solve.)

Villar said one of the solutions to prevent such a high price for onions is to fix the country’s value chain in order for farmers to directly sell homegrown products to consumers.

In a television interview on Tuesday, DA deputy spokesperson Rex Estoperez said there have been reports of price manipulation as crops of onions are being sold to the highest bidder in some parts of Tarlac and Nueva Ecija.

“Pero ‘yung manipulation, pumapasok ho do’n sa ano eh… Ito ang pagkukulang ng Department of Agriculture, ‘yung sa supply chain. ‘Yung may ahente na, may traders pa. Ang sasabihin nila na kulang ang gastos nila sa pag-transport ng sibuyas from the production area to the market. Mukhang ‘yun ang malaki po,” he said.

(This is the deficiency of the Department of Agriculture, that of the supply chain. Those who have an agent also have traders. What they will say is that they lack the cost of transporting onions from the production area to the market. That seems to be the big one.)

Earlier, lawmakers from the House of Representatives and Senate called for the conduct of a probe into the soaring prices of locally produced onions.

Meanwhile, Ombudsman Samuel Martires said he has already ordered an investigation on DA officials in relation to the matter, as well as the involvement of traders in price manipulation following the procurement of the Food Terminal Inc. (FTI) of P537 per kilo of onions from the Bonena Multipurpose Cooperative.

The DA allocated P140 million for the purchase of onions from farmers at farmgate price while the FTI bought the onions from Bonena.

Martires noted that the same type of onions was being sold at the Kadiwa stores for P170 per kilo. (SunStar Philippines)