Probe on DA, FTI execs for alleged onion price manipulation ‘long overdue,’ says solon
MANILA, Philippines – Alliance of Concerned Teachers Partylist Rep. France Castro on Wednesday said the investigation on Department of Agriculture (DA) and Food Terminal Inc. (FTI) officials over allegations of price manipulation is “long overdue,” noting that issues on purported cartels have been hounding the onion industry for years.
Castro made the statement after the Office of the Ombudsman summoned DA and FTI officials for their procurement of onions at P537 per kilogram and their decision to import the produce even as the local harvest season nears.
The Ombudsman will also look into claims of onion price manipulation, according to DA deputy spokesperson Rex Estoperez.
READ: Ombudsman summons DA, FTI execs over onion purchase
Castro said she had hoped for the antigraft body to investigate officials of the DA, where President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. concurrently sits as Secretary, and to include the skyrocketing prices of other commodities like sugar, other vegetables, fish, and rice.
“Magandang imbestigahan din kung bakit DA officials ang palaging nagtutulak na mag-import tayo ng kung anong produktong agrikultural na siya namang nakakasama sa ating mga magsasaka. Ngayon, mag-iimport naman ng sibuyas,” the lawmaker added.
(It would also be good to investigate why DA officials always push us to import agricultural products when it harms our own farmers. So now, we’re set to import onions.)
The DA recently greenlighted the importation of 21,060 metric tons (MT) of red and yellow onions as it pointed out that the retail prices of the produce remain at the P600 per kilogram level.
READ: DA authorizes importation of more than 21,000MT of onions
“The issue of an onion cartel is nothing new along with the rice and garlic cartels,” Castro said.
Citing a newsletter from the Department of Justice – Office for Competition (DOJ – OFC) in early 2015, Castro said fact-finding investigations conducted by the body “confirmed that collusion and cartel existed in the onion industry.”
READ: Collusion and cartel caused high prices of garlic – NBI
“Investigations showed that the same personalities as in the garlic case used similar modus operandi to corner import permits as well as manipulate onion supply and its prices,” she added.
READ: Garlic cartel also cooked up onion racket—DOJ report
The lawmaker added that the DOJ – OFC’s findings exposed the country’s commodity sector as one that “is prone to anti-competitive behavior.”
According to Castro, the DOJ-OFC had recommended policy changes in the garlic and onion industries, which include removing the current permit system, creating clear and impartial guidelines on issuing import permits, and amendment of existing laws and regulations.
“It seems that nothing came out of these recommendations and the cases they filed because the onion cartel is back again in full force and raking in humongous profits. We hope that the Ombudsman’s probe would be more thorough and those responsible would truly be held to account,” she added.
Castro, with her fellow House lawmakers in the Makabayan bloc, earlier filed House Resolution No. 673, seeking for the House panel on agriculture and food to immediately conduct a legislative inquiry on the potential overpricing and price manipulation of onions in the market.
Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo had similarly filed House Resolution No. 681, which calls for the House to investigate the alleged anti-competitive practices and existence of cartels in the onion industry. – with reports from Niña Cuasay, trainee
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