Iloilo solon asks NBI: Check trader’s claims of selling onions at low price last year
MANILA, Philippines — The National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has been asked to check into the sales of an onion distributor invited into a House of Representatives hearing, after lawmakers were surprised to learn that she sold red onions at P200 to P250 per kilogram in December.
Iloilo 1st District Rep. Janette Garin sought NBI’s help on Wednesday after Agrifina Mendoza, a depositor of onions at the Ribson Cold Storage Facility, said during the House committee on agriculture and food hearing that she sold onions at P70 to P75 per kilogram in Divisoria and other markets around June and July, and at P100 to P120 per kilogram between October and November.
Mendoza was one of the resource persons of the House committee, which is still trying to get to the root of high onion prices — which ballooned to around P400 to P700 at some points.
“Mr. Chair, your Honor, may we request the NBI to look into the sales of our resource person, because it is quite perplexing as supermarkets should have bought onions from you if you were selling at such low prices in December,” Garin said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“I am deeply bothered because the Department of Agriculture (DA), they have been checking markets every now and then but they saw nothing, that’s why the food terminal was left with no option but to buy at P570 per kilo because they cannot find anyone in the Philippines selling at that price,” he added.
Committee chair and Quezon 1st District Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga agreed, asking the NBI to look into the issue.
Mendoza, who also said before the committee that she had around 38,000 to 48,000 bags of red onion for the entirety of 2022, said that each bag during the months of July and June only costs P1,700. This meant that if a bag contains around 26 to 27 kilograms of onions, it would cost as low as P65 per kilogram.
She then sold it at P70 to P75 per kilogram.
“If we cannot buy from farmers, I release onions from my storage that are stored with Ribson,” Mendoza said.
“How much do you sell these?” Garin asked.
“At around P70 to P75 per kilo in July. By December at around P150 to P200 per kilo,” Mendoza replied.
When Garin called her attention to the fact that onion prices had been skyrocketing in December 2022, Mendoza clarified that it was from her stash at the cold storage. However, the prices of onions she sold also rose as she had to purchase products from Pangasinan, which were considerably more expensive.
“Isn’t it confusing that supermarkets sold onions for P500 to P600. Because if you have been at that low price, wouldn’t it be possible that people from all over the country would have rushed toward your stores?” Garin stressed.
“Ma’am during that time when supermarkets were selling at P500 (per kilo), that was (the) time that I got onions from Pangasinan, newly-harvested,” Mendoza answered. “Because if we’re basing it from Divisoria, the half of December, around December 15, the source of onions I sold were from Pangasinan already.”
When asked by Garin about where the cheaper onions came from, Mendoza said farmers who grew them in Pangasinan sold onions for P220 per kilogram.
Despite the explanation, Garin said that it would not have made sense for major supermarket chains to opt for onions priced between P400 to P500 when there were distributors selling it for P250 per kilogram — or even farmers at P220 per kilogram — at the same time.
“I’m asking these questions so that DTI (Department of Trade and Industry) and DA can look into the situation because it’s very obvious that farmers are being used for actions where it is the middleman, the agents, the brokers, and especially the traders, who benefit,” Garin said.
“Of course — I’m sorry ma’am — but it is not believable that you sold onions at a lower price while supermarkets were pricing it so high […] they have consignees, they have several concessionaires. If there are only four concessionaires, if I sold at P600, if Asec. would sell onions for P550, and sir for P500. It is natural that supermarkets would buy from her (Mendoza), we would lose income,” she added.
Garin also agreed with the initial observations of Sagip party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta — who alleged during the earlier part of the hearing that the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) was influenced to refrain from importing white onions, and substitute red onions instead.
Marcoleta was referring to Bonena Multi-Purpose Cooperative president Israel Reguyal, whose suggestions were supposedly considered by BPI.
Reguyal was not present during the hearing due to hypertension and diabetes.
The House panel has conducted at least eight hearings to uncover why agricultural products like mainly onions became too expensive in the latter part of 2022. The hearings have led to contempt orders being imposed against resource persons as one of the trading companies invited by the panel — Argo Trading — refused to provide documents needed by the panel claiming they were confidential.
Eventually, in the March 21 hearing of the committee, another set of cold storage facility officials were cited in contempt due to conflicting statements. With reports from Aliah Gumasing, trainee