House stumped over 39-percent hike in onion demand

House stumped over 39-percent hike in onion demand

MANILA, Philippines —  Lawmakers have uncovered what they suspect could be proof of an artificial shortage of onions in the market, based on industry data over the last 10 years as provided by the Department of Agriculture (DA).

Marikina City Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo, not one to hide her exasperation with DA officials over the unprecedented hike in the price of onions in the country, put the DA on the spot over data provided by its Bureau of Plant Industry that increase in the demand for onions suddenly jumped to 39 percent in 2022.

An economist by profession, Quimbo noted that from 2011 to 2021 the demand for onions had been steady at five percent, but suddenly soared 34 percent higher in 2022.

“This, for me, is the new mystery,” she said. “How can you explain that every year you just have a five percent demand? Because every year the drive for increase in demand for onions is population growth. Using onions for sautéing has never changed.”

Turning the heat on DA officials, Quimbo asked them to give a logical explanation for the figures its BPI office provided.

“Because if you don’t have any justification for this 39 percent increase in demand, then it only shows that you invented this to justify the shortage,” concluded the senior vice chairperson of the House committee on appropriations.

1Sagip party-list Rep. Rodante Marcoleta agreed with the position of Quimbo that House members are being misled by the DA’s figures.

In defense of the DA, High Value Crops Development Program director Arnold Timoteo replied that their template is based on a formula that has not changed, while the data comes from local government units (LGUs). He added that the demand was based on the per capita consumption provided by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

In sharp response, Marcoleta cited an instance in 2022 when the onion sufficiency level was 120 percent as per PSA.

Timoteo responded that their data showed 210 percent onion sufficiency in the second quarter of 2022, but that it went down to 114 percent in the third quarter until the fourth quarter, hence, the shortage in supply.

“What are you trying to tell us? What you’re saying is that by November, the supply went missing? If that is the case, then your data is flawed,” Marcoleta observed.

He also refused to acknowledge Timoteo’s claim that their data came from LGUs while the other information was from the PSA.

Earlier, Speaker Ferdinand Martin Romualdez had declared that there is no onion shortage.

“We (in government) know that there are sufficient supplies of these basic commodities and there is no reason why the prices should be soaring,” Romualdez said, insinuating that syndicates are the culprits in the unnecessary hike in the prices of goods.

“It only points out to one thing – there is hoarding; there is price manipulation. So, we are warning those who are behind these nefarious activities your days are numbered,” he said.

Romualdez – whose cousin, President Marcos, is the agriculture secretary – also warned the DA that lawmakers can resort to using their “power of the purse” by cutting down the department’s budget for next year if officials fail to identify who the price manipulators are in the basic commodities’ market.

“We are also giving budget to the DA and your agency so we want to make sure you are performing optimally,” he reminded DA officials when they met early last week.

The Leyte congressman implied further that the DA’s budget this year, which is 40 percent higher than last year’s, does not seem worth it amid the supply shortages.

“At the end of the day, with the best data, the best feedback, we can make the best policies so we can avoid this situation where some unscrupulous personalities and cartels are taking advantage of the situation,” Romualdez said, encouraging them to cooperate.

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