Over 1,000 bags of smuggled onions confiscated in Manila

Anna Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 03 2022 08:08 AM | Updated as of Dec 03 2022 11:52 PM

(UPDATED) More than a thousand bags of yellow onions were seized by the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), Bureau of Customs, Department of Agriculture, Philippine National Police, and Philippine Coast Guard, from a warehouse in Tondo, Manila on Friday evening.

Authorities raided the storage facility on Sto. Cristo Street past 7 p.m.

According to BPI Information Section officer-in-charge Jose Diego Roxas, authorities seized some 1,037 bags worth about P3.94 million.

Of the number, 944 bags were worth P4,000 each while 93 sacks were valued at P1,800 each.

Project assistant and team leader Melvin Banagbanag said they had been monitoring the unit for a month.

"Bago pumasok ng Pilipinas, lahat ng importer kailangan kumuha ng phytosanitary permit at saka importation permit. 'Pag wala, automatic smuggled na po iyon," he said.

Banagbanag warned that while it is tempting to buy yellow onions since they are cheaper, consuming the said produce is a potential health risk.

"Kapag walang phytosanitary permit, hindi po siya safe kainin. [Baka] meron siya chemicals na nakahalo," he said.

Buying smuggled goods also aggravates the plight of Filipino farmers.

"Illegal is mura kumpara sa local, kaya hinuhuli natin walang permit para matulungan famers natin at makabenta," said Banagbanag.

"Ito ay para makatulong sa local farmers. Kung mag-import nang mag-import, sayang ang pino-produce ng local farmers," he added.

The Department of Agriculture meanwhile said that the smuggled onions were possibly being hoarded to manipulate the market price.

“Isang inaano natin dito 'yung price manipulation at saka profiteering. Ang nakikita natin dito, iho-hoard muna at saka pag may kakulangan sa demand, saka nila ilalabas paunti-unti, kahit binili nila ng mababang presyo,” DA Assistant Secretary James Layug noted.

The confiscated vegetables were brought to the BPI warehouse.

Meanwhile, the DA admitted it is possible more onions have been smuggled in the country.

Just last November 29, the DA seized four 40-foot containers with yellow onions inside initially declared as bread.

The National Capital Region Police Office (NCRPO) warned that they, along with the other agencies, will continue the crackdown on smuggled goods.

“While there is a soar in the price of onions and possible shortage, some are taking advantage of the situation and imported illegally. Hindi po natin hahayaan ang mga mapagsamantala na gamitin at pagkakitaan ang ating mga kababayan. Ang kapulisan ay handang makipagtulungan upang masawata ang iba pang smuggled goods na naipapasok sa ating bansa lalong-lalo na sa Metro Manila," said NCRPO chief Police Brig Gen. Jonnel Estomo.

The DA said that while the price of the onions are steep due to “mobilization” issues, there is still no shortage.

“Food mobilization po 'yung ating mga tawid dagat... 'yun po ay pwede natin gawin... pero ang bottomline we are sufficient... so ang presyo ay tinitingnan din natin para hindi gumalaw,” DA spokesperson Christine Evangelista said.

Presently, the country has 13,000 metric tons of red onion supply with another 5,000 metric tons expected to be harvested this December 2023.

"Right now, importation of onions is still being discussed together with the stakeholders because we don't want the importation to coincide with the harvest season first and foremost,” Evangelista added.

DA meanwhile plans to strengthen the presence of Kadiwa stores in different parts of the country so cheaper agricultural products such as onions would be made available to the public.

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