Angeles City protesters want ‘pork’ scam perpetrators jailed

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A vendor sorts out newly harvested onions in a wholesale market in  Bayambang, Pangasinan province.WILLIE LOMIBAO/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

A vendor sorts out newly harvested onions in a wholesale market in Bayambang, Pangasinan province.WILLIE LOMIBAO/INQUIRER NORTHERN LUZON

SCIENCE CITY OF MUÑOZ—Farmers turned their ire on cooperatives after they found that these groups had obtained more than 1,000 permits from the agriculture department to import onions during harvest time, causing a drop in prices and losses to farmers.

But Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala said the decline in prices was due to oversupply. Alcala said “many areas in the country planted onions this season and there is abundant harvest of this commodity.”

In a forum in Bongabon town in the province, farmers were told that thousands of tons of yellow granex onions entered the country from Sept. 14, 2014 to March 9 this year.

Farmers have been suffering from the impact of poor onion sales, despite low supply this year that should have raised prices due to high demand.

The farmers said they are disappointed at the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) for issuing more than 1,000 import permits to 49 importers, including five farmers’ cooperatives from Nueva Ecija.

At the forum, farmers booed Gaudioso Bartolome, an officer of Kapisanan ng mga Samahan ng Magsisibuyas sa Nueva Ecija (Kasamne) which is composed of 17 cooperatives, and Vilma Camato, chair of the Bagong Sigla Credit Cooperative (BSCC).

Bongabon Mayor Allan Gamilla said BSCC and Magsasaka ng Barangay Vega Producers Cooperative are two of five importers in their town, where 60 percent of residents thrive on onion farming.

“This is shocking. They are so insensitive,” said a farmer who left the forum in disgust. She said the importation took place when farmers were about to harvest their crops.

In a speech, Gamilla said BSCC got 70 import permits while Kasamne got 30 permits.

Documents, however, showed that a Manila businessman might have imported the onions using permits that cooperatives sold to him.

Gamilla and Department of Agriculture officials presented documents which showed that one of the cooperatives sold 29 of its yellow onion import permits to the businessman for P8.9 million.

Gamilla also showed photocopies of two checks worth P7.1 million, which the businessman also paid to the cooperative.

The mayor said authorities must investigate these transactions before the economic integration of countries belonging to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations takes effect this year.

The integration will allow the free flow of goods and imports will no longer be restricted.

“We cannot allow onions to suffer the same fate as garlic,” Gamilla said, referring to losses suffered by garlic farmers as a result of importation and smuggling.

But Alcala has a different take. He said onion farming has expanded and this caused a glut in supply.

“Onion planting expanded particularly in Mindoro, some areas in Mindanao and in the Visayas…[so] the farm gate price offered by traders [this year] went down,” he said.

The prevailing farm gate prices dropped to “break-even” levels, according to farmers in Nueva Ecija and Pangasinan, the top onion producers.

Farm gate prices of yellow granex onions dropped from P9 to P7 a kilogram and red creole onions from P12 to P10 a kg.

Onion producers had attributed the increase in supply to smuggling.

“We are checking why there was a glut of red onions in the market,” said Alcala.

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