THE first shipments of imported onions have arrived as part of the government's strategy to bring down the bulbs' soaring prices.
Agriculture deputy spokesman Rex Estoperez told The Manila Times on Monday that 5,000 metric tons (MT) of onions are being unloaded in select ports in the country.
The onion shipments will be limited to the ports of Manila, Subic, Cebu, Davao and Cagayan de Oro City.
Estoperez said the importation negates the efforts of the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives to delay the onion shipments.
The bloc had filed House Joint Resolution 18 calling on the Marcos administration to suspend the onion importation because it will affect the livelihood of the already marginalized local onion farmers.
Estoperez said the importers were only allowed to bring in 5,000 MT. Agriculture Senior Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban had approved a maximum importation of 21,060 MT.
“The imported onions will be released in the market on a staggered basis once the bulbs pass the SPSIC (sanitary and phytosanitary import clearance). From the first border control, which is the port, then the imported onions will be stored at cold storage facilities and there is a distribution plan for the imported bulbs,” he said.
“There is no need to delay the arrival since the volume is only limited and this will be supplied not only in Metro Manila but also Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao,” Estoperez said.
He allayed concerns of onion producers that the imported bulbs will further push down farmgate prices, saying the harvest season is not expected to peak until the middle of February.
“The farmgate price will fall if we allow it,” said Estoperez, who is scheduled to go to Nueva Ecija on Tuesday to determine the production cost and the volume of the harvest.
Albay Second District Rep. Jose Ma. Clemente “Joey” Salceda said he expects the onion prices to return to P50 a kilo.
“You can cut all my five fingers if it does not go back to P50,” Salceda said in an earlier television interview.
Estoperez said the cost of production of onion farmers should be considered before setting a cap on the retail price of onions.
Agriculture Assistant Secretary and spokesman Kristine Evangelista, who went to Nueva Ecija last Friday, said the farmgate price of onions there had dropped to P120 per kilo. That means retail prices should range from P200 to P250 per kilo.
Evangelista said on Monday that a farmers' group said onion farmers are forced to harvest early following the arrival of imported onions.
In a radio interview, RiceUP Farmer Inc. and Sakahon founder Elvin Laceda confirmed that farmgate prices continue to drop.
“Because of fear of farmers on the arrival of imported onions, they are forced to harvest early since if the farmgate price will go down to P50 to P60, they will already suffer losses,” Laceda said.
Laceda said that RiceUP accompanied Merly Gallardo, the widow of an onion farmer from Bayambang, Pangasinan, to the Kadiwa center at the DA main office in Quezon City to sell her produce.
“We are now here at Elliptical. We are selling the small-sized onions at P140 [per kilo] and P240 [per kilo] for bigger sizes. Nanay's Merly's income increased by 45 percent, but we are afraid that the farmgate will fall because of the importation,” he said.
During a Senate hearing, Gallardo said her husband, Roger, committed suicide after being heavily indebted following an invasion of armyworms that ravaged his crops.
“We are urging the government to delay the importation as farmers suffered losses in the past two cycles. It is only this January where they can recover,” Laceda said.
Aside from the Kadiwa center at the DA, Laceda said the onion harvest of Gallardo is also available at the Senate in Pasay City.
“We will also sell on Saturday and Sunday. Onions will also be available at the Senate office as the staff also requested. A team is now in the premises of the Senate,” he said.
DA monitoring on Monday at the Malabon Central Market in Malabon City showed that onions were retailing at P200 to P300 per kilo.
The bulbs sold for as high as P350 per kilo at Marikina Public Market in Marikina City.
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