KADIWA stores run by the Department of Agriculture will stop selling cheaper onions beginning today, Friday, as its agreement with Food Terminal Inc. (FTI), the supplier of the precious commodity, ended last December 31, 2022.
Meanwhile, Customs agents have seized shipments of smuggled red and white onions worth more than P153 million from China.
Also, Albay 1st District Rep. Joey Salceda blamed a cartel for the rising prices of onions and other goods in the country, saying onion prices in the Philippines are the highest in the whole world.
In an interview Thursday, Agriculture Assistant Secretary Kristine Evangelista said the department needs to ensure it has a supplemental memorandum of agreement with the FTI before Kadiwa stores sell onions again.
“Starting tomorrow, there will be none for the meantime. We have to make sure if we have to have supplemental MOA, then everything has to be in order to start the second cycle,” Evangelista said.
“The first cycle (of onion stocks) is already sold out,” she added.
“We’re in the second week of January… We also took into consideration that the price will go down,” Evangelista said.
Operatives of the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Service-Manila International Container Port (CIIS-MICP) led by its chief Alvin Enciso discovered the onions during a spot-check examination of several containers in North Harbor Manila last Tuesday.
The impounded shipments were all consigned to Seaster Consumer Goods Trading and were originally declared to contain fishballs.
Two containers were found to contain undeclared fresh white onions, while five had fresh red onions.
Enciso’s team recommended for the issuance of Warrant of Seizure and Detention (WSD) as the consignee, Seaster, is expected to face criminal charges.
Aside from supply issues, smuggling could be behind the price spikes, Salceda said
“Smuggling, it’s obvious. Because if we follow economics, once supply has increased, the price should go down but why is it rising when it should be decreasing?” he said in a TeleRadyo interview.
A cartel intent on controlling onion prices first flooded the local market with cheap onions, thereby discouraging local farmers from planting the vegetable, the congressman said.
The cartel then raised the prices after the local supply of onions dwindled, the Albay solon added.
Kadiwa stores sell red and white onions at only P170 per kilo, compared to P600 to P700 per kilo at several Metro Manila markets.
Evangelista said the DA is monitoring the farm-gate price of onions, saying it receives reports that farmgate prices of the commodity go as low as P210 to P250 per kilo.
She said it is possible that the onions to be sold at Kadiwa stores for the second cycle would be cheaper.
“But, if we’re going to partner with FTI, this is something we have to discuss with them… We are exploring all options, where we can get onions the soonest, and the most prudent way,” she added.
Salceda said he has the names of several people allegedly running the smuggling ring of vegetables as well as meat. He did not reveal their identities but said they are mainly Chinese nationals.
The House of Representatives is set to conduct hearings on the issue starting Jan. 23.
“We’re focused on the prices of onions because we are number 1 in the whole world. I asked for all [the prices] and we are really number 1. There is a cartel,” he added.
Onions, along with other vegetables pushed inflation upwards to 8.1 percent in December 2022. Vegetables alone posted a 32.4 percent inflation for the month, the highest since February 1999.
Aside from onions, Salceda also warned about the increase in smuggled pork and other meat products in the country.
He noted that pork imports rose from 17,000 metric tons to 741,000 MT recently, with similar increases in beef and chicken leg quarters imports.
“We could be talking about P53 billion in overall smuggling traffic here,” he said.
Salceda warned that meat importers used to pay P800,000 per container when shipped through the Manila International Container Port. This has decreased to P100,000 per container when shipped via Subic.
“That’s how it goes now, everything is there (in Subic). It is the center of the universe, the center of gravity, it is not the haven but the ‘heaven’ of smuggling right now in the Philippines,” he said.
Customs Commissioner Yogi Filemon Ruiz said the ongoing intensified operation against agricultural smuggling is part of their efforts to answer the direction set by President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., as well as an assurance to the public that the bureau is on top of the situation.
“We are fully aware of the woes of our kababayans because of the prices of goods, particularly fresh onions. We are taking extra steps to make sure these perpetrators are brought to justice and free our markets from illegally sourced and imported products that could further impact the agricultural sector,” Ruiz added.
Deputy Commissioner Juvymax Uy stressed how important it is for the Marcos administration, the bureau, and the public to catch these unscrupulous groups.
“We are not blind to what the people want. They want justice to be served, and that’s what we are doing here. We have a unique perspective of seeing what and how these groups operate, so we want to assure the public that we are investing in the right tools and with the right partners to bring that goal to fruition,” Uy said.
CIIS Director Jeoffrey Tacio shared that the spot exam of the containers become possible because of the information they received.
“Again, it is only through the proper collaboration and coordination with different government agencies that our team was able to operate successfully. This is what partnership can do—catch multimillions worth of smuggled items these players are bringing into our markets,” he said.
All the shipments arrived on Nov. 16, 2022. A request for the verification of all containers was made on Nov. 18, 2022.
The shipments were found with undeclared fresh white and red onions with an estimated value of P21,945,000 for each container, totaling to P153,615,000.
The examination was witnessed by representatives of the Department of Agriculture, Philippine Coast Guard, Bureau of Plant Industry, Assessment and Operations Coordinating Group, Enforcement Security Service, Customs Anti-Illegal Drug Task Force, and Chamber of Customs Brokers, Inc.
The bureau recently impounded three container vans loaded with smuggled yellow onions and used clothing worth P19 million, also from China.
The shipments consigned to SB Express Logistics and Business Solution Inc. were placed under 100 percent physical examination after Commissioner Ruiz signed and issued an alert order on Dec. 22.