Speaker sets House probe vs. supply exploiters for economic sabotage
The government will go after unscrupulous traders and hoarders of onion and garlic, whose days are numbered, House Speaker and Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez said Sunday.
“We received information that these people are hoarding onion, and more recently even garlic, to create an artificial scarcity in supply and induce price increases,” he said. “This is economic sabotage.”
Despite the ongoing harvest season and the entry of imported onions, retail prices remain high, Romualdez said.
He said he has already instructed the House committee on agriculture and food, chaired by Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga, to conduct an investigation and, if warranted by evidence, to recommend the filing of criminal charges against the people behind the scheme.
The House panel will also consider recommending to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. the “calibrated importation” of onion and garlic to force these hoarders to unload their stocks and drive prices down.
This importation, however, should not in any way prejudice the welfare of local farmers, he said.
“It is very important to ensure that any importation should consist of such quantity and be done well ahead of the harvest season to avoid any adverse effect on the livelihood of our local farmers,” he said.
Romualdez also wants the appropriate government agencies to monitor the prices of onion and garlic in the local markets.
“People are still trying to recover from the (COVID-19) pandemic. The last thing we need is an unreasonable rise in food prices,” he said.
He said the government should equally address the smuggling of onion and other agricultural products that stifles the local industry.
Meanwhile, Senator Risa Hontiveros called on the government to support local farmers as she met with onion growers of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, which is in Region 4-B, the nation’s largest onion-producing region together with Region 3.
Hontiveros and Francis Pangilinan, the former senator and presidential assistant for food security and agricultural modernization, consulted with farmers in Mamburao and Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro, who told them insufficient cold storage facilities have contributed to their harvest and revenue losses.
The farmers also said the onion price should not fall below P100 per kilogram for them to recuperate their capital.
Hontiveros urged the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to develop new cold storage facilities in Mindoro, Nueva Ecija, Ilocos, and Pangasinan to decrease these losses and to help farmers obtain higher prices for their produce.
“We should give farmers what they need. Before the budget hearings in the Senate, the DA and DTI should allocate funds so our farmers will have enough storage facilities for their agricultural products,” Hontiveros said.
She asserted this will ease the burden not only of the farmers, but also the consuming public.
She also noted that the country can also adopt the practice in India where the government provides concessional financing so the private sector will build more cold storage facilities.
This way, she said, the small farmers can be prioritized and the investment will happen in the first years even if the facility utilization may be low towards the end of the year.
Eventually the availability of cold storage facilities will be a catalyst to produce other seasonal farm produce, she said.
She also pointed out that a microfinance program is essential so that farmers without cash on hand to pay for cold storage facilities are not compelled to sell their produce at a much lower price.
On Saturday, the DA said only 3,500 metric tons (MT) of the more than 21,000 MT of onions authorized for importation have arrived in the country.
The importation had been approved in January to fill a supply gap ahead of the onion harvest.