MANILA — Farmer Merlita Gallardo continues to reel from her half-a-million peso bank loan which she used as capital to plant onions in their one-hectare land in Bayambang, Pangasinan last year.
Problem is, her expected income from the harvest did not materialize, as traders only bought their produce at P20 per kilo.
“Mura lang noon benta naming P20 kaya hindi kami nakabayad ng utang… malaki po ang puhunan naming dun ma’am. Nangutang din,” Gallardo said Monday during the Senate agriculture panel's investigation into the soaring price of local onions.
Gallardo, when asked how she felt upon learning that their onions that were bought at cheap prices are being sold from P600 to 700 per kilo in Metro Manila, said: “Nanghihinayang kami. Walang magawa, yun ang bili sa iyo eh.”
This year, Gallardo was lucky to have met the Young Farmers Challenge Club of the Philippines, Incorporated – a group of young farmers helping others sell their produce – who bought her onions at P220 per kilo.
This is in contrast to the situation of Occidental Mindoro farmers, who had to sell their onions to a low of P8 to a high of P15 per kilo.
Municipal agriculturist Romel Calingasan said they were forced to sell onions at a low price for fear of seeing their produce rot given the absence of a cold storage facility in their province.
“Kaya talaga po ganun na lang talaga kadismaya ng mga magsasaka sa amin pong lalawigan partikular sa San Jose, Occidental Mindoro dahil sobrang taas po ang naging presyo ng sibuyas. Sobrang pinagsamantalahan po ang presyo ng sibuyas,” Calingasan said in the same hearing.
“Sa DA, hindi niyo ba identified kung sino ang mga middleman na pinagbentahan ng P6 to P15 na ngayon umaabot ng P600 ang benta? Dapat ang mga middleman na yun ay kasuhan?” Sen. Raffy Tulfo quickly interjected.
Agriculture Undersecretary Mercedita Sombilla assured the panel of their agency’s immediate action.
“Siguro tulungan din po kami. Siguro i-identify din nila kung sino ang bumili sa kanila… Kakausapin po ng BPI (Bureau of Plant Industry),” said Sombilla, who heads the DA Policy Planning and Regulations.
The DA said the agency will open two cold storage facilities in Occidental Mindoro.
But farmers countered that one facility to be opened in Rizal, Occidental Mindoro is 20 kilometers away, and the other one is 97 kilometers away from the municipality of San Jose, Occidental Mindoro’s farming center.
“Ito naman po ay plano pa lang po ano po? Yung proposal po ay galing sa regional offices,” said Director Gerald Glenn Panganiban, BPI OIC director,
Onion supply demand in the country, according to DA data, is at 317,400 metric tons, as against the annual supply which only runs from 230 to 250,000 metric tons, thereby requiring onion importation.
“25,000 metric tons nabubulok… Nung 2022, we imported 29,000 metric tons, so theoretically speaking kung hindi natin pinabulok yung ating 25,000 locally produced onions metric tons, 4,000 metric tons lang talaga ang kinailangan nating in-import,” Senate Minority Leader Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said.
Ramon Silverio, Kaakibat Provincial Cooperative Council chairman, conveyed the farmers’ appeal to the government.
“Hindi na naming hinihingi yung P200. Hindi na. Basta sa pagdating ng anihan namin sa March, April, dapat huwag bumaba sa P100 ang aming farm gate price. Dapat po protektahan kami ng gobyerno sa San Jose Occidental Mindoro,” Silverio said.
“Sana yung plano ng Department of Agriculture na mag-isyu na naman ng importation permit para sa 22,000 metric tons. Alam nyo po bang yan ang papatay sa aming mga magsasaka,” Calingasan said.
Pimentel asked: “300,000 ang recorded demand ng red and yellow onion ng Department of Agriculture. Kaya po ninyo? So etong 82,000 na sinasabing production ninyo, hindi pa yan yung maximum production ninyo? Kaya nyo?"
“Kaya po, kasi hesitant lang ang mga farmer na magtanim kasi pag dumadating ang anihan pinapatay kami… hindi pa po yan (maximum harvest), meron pang natatapon,” Silverio stressed.
Agriculture Assistant Secretary for Consumer Affairs Kristine Evangelista assured the committee, they will address the onion buying price concerns of farmers.
“We are looking at the possibility of DA procuring straight it from them, but selling is a different story,” Evangelista said.
This early, the committee is looking at amending the Anti-Smuggling law and empower the President to decide who should be charged in smuggling activities.