MANILA (UPDATE) — Senators, farmers, and other stakeholders on Monday took turns to lash out at the Department of Agriculture (DA) for its alleged lapses that supposedly led to the soaring price of onions.
DA officials and farmers were invited by the Senate panel on Agriculture, Food, and Agrarian Reform to find out why the price of onions went as high as P700 per kilo during the holiday season and remained at around P350 to P550 this week.
Sen. Cynthia Villar, chairperson of the panel, was puzzled as to how the price of the commodity soared despite having no "real shortage."
Villar said based on the onion supply and demand data of the DA, there was no shortage that could cause a drastic increase in the prices of onions given that there was a surplus of 53,202 metric tons (MT) in 2021 that could have addressed the 2,000 MT deficiency in 2022.
“So we could say that we really don't have a shortage to cause an increase in price, that is why we're calling this hearing for the people to be able to explain what is happening… they have to explain to us what is happening in the DA and, of course, in the Bureau of Customs,” Villar said.
Sen. Imee Marcos, who initiated the investigation, blamed the DA's "poor planning" for the onion crisis.
Marcos pointed out that the shortage of onion supply could have been averted if only the DA made a “timely” and “well-projected” minimal importation during the off season.
“The price of onions had taken us on this mad roller coaster ride during the last few months. It is apparent that there is an abject lack of planning (on the part of DA) therefore,” Marcos said.
The DA's plan of importing some 20,000 MT of onions to address the soaring prices was also criticized as it would supposedly result in losses for onion farmers set to harvest in the next month.
In response, the DA said it already updated its request and would only import 5,000 MT of onions.
President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. currently serves as the head of the DA as he has yet to name a permanent appointee.
But according to some senators, the absence of a permanent secretary contributes to the problem in the department.
"Panahon na rin siguro talaga na magkaroon ng DA secretary na aako sa kawalan ng aksyon sa agricultural crisis na ito. Asukal noong una, sibuyas naman ngayon. Ihe-hearing 'ata natin lahat ng kailangan sa kusina," Sen. Grace Poe said.
The DA during the weekend acknowledged its shortcomings in its resource mobilization that somehow affected the supply of onions in the market.
Senators also questioned the DA for its alleged inaction against agricultural smugglers and cartels.
Sen. Raffy Tulfo and Sen. Robin Padilla asked DA officials to identify local traders who hoarded onions and sold them at exorbitant prices during the Christmas season.
"Pwede natin ma-subpoena mga taong yan, may kakayahan po tayo?" Padilla asked.
In response, Villar said she has been exposing the supposed agricultural hoarders since her early days in the Senate but DA has never prosecuted any of them.
"Kaya minsan natatamad na ako sa imbestigasyon na yan paulit-ulit, yan ang lumabas na names... Imagine ang tagal-tagal na niyan, it's common knowledge. Magbabait sila pag nag-investigate ka, tapos uulit uli... Bakit hindi niyo pa ikulong para tapos na ang problema natin... Walang madadala, walang matatakot. Mag-sample naman kayo," Villar lamented.