PBBM okays move to rein in inflation, limits middlemen in trading
The Department of Agriculture has set the suggested retail price of P125 per kilo for imported red onions, which will take effect on Feb. 8, Assistant Secretary Kristine Evangelista said Monday.
Evangelista said this SRP was reached after a meeting attended by importers, traders, and retailers.
This developed as President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. approved several initiatives proposed by the Department of Trade and Industry to help regulate the soaring prices of onions in the country, including limiting the number of traders involved in the supply chain of imported and locally produced onions.
Also on Monday, House Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez met with officials from the DA and DTI and called for an all-out war against hoarders and unscrupulous traders of onion and other agricultural products.
Among the action plans firmed up during the meeting is for the DA to tap the P276-million Kadiwa Food Mobilization Fund under the 2023 budget to buy the harvest of farmers at prices higher than the production cost, then sell it through Kadiwa at farm gate prices to force hoarders to unload their stocks.
Meanwhile, the DTI vowed to assist the DA in helping Filipinos still struggling with high food prices.
In a televised interview, DTI Usec. Ruth Castelo said that while the agency has yet to make an announcement on these initiatives, the President has already green-lit some proposals from Trade Secretary Alfredo Pascual.
“Of course, the DTI really has to help as our contribution to the country’s food security. These are agricultural products. but there are already initiatives proposed by DTI Sec. Pascual which the President approved,” Castelo told ABS-CBN.
“However, we cannot disclose the details yet except for the initiative that we can limit traders now to shorten the supply chain between the farmer and the trader,” she added.
The more traders are involved, the higher the markup of prices of onions will be once they reach local markets, Castelo pointed out. She cited imported onions, which have a landed cost of only P14 but are being sold by as high as P350 per kilo in some Metro Manila markets, citing Bureau of Customs data.
“We know that its lowest price in the market is P180 in only one market in the National Capital Region. Its highest selling price as of today is P300 sometimes even P350, but in a local market brand, they sell local onions for around P180,” she said.
“So, we can see that the prices are going down and once there has been a continuous harvest from local producers, the prices will further continue to go down. We also need to bring down the prices of the imported onion because, from the landed cost as our starting point, we’re eyeing how to lessen the markup of the traders’ prices,” Castelo added.
As for Evangelista, the DA official said among the factors considered in determining the P125 SRP for imported red onions were the importer’s price, including expenses after landed cost, which is around P77, and the wholesaler’s price.
She said the department will not be setting an SRP for local onions for now.
Romualdez on Sunday warned hoarders and traders manipulating the supply and prices of onion and other agricultural commodities that their days are numbered.
“We cannot allow it anymore. It’s too much,” Romualdez said of the high retail prices for onions.
The Speaker asked the DA and DTI officials to help Congress identify these unscrupulous businessmen so they can be invited to the forthcoming congressional investigation on the manipulation of supply and prices of agricultural products.
“If you know who these people are, let us know. We will invite all of them, if not, have the authorities arrest them,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez said the lawmakers recognize the right of businessmen under a regime of free trade to earn a profit, but it should not come at the expense and misery of the people.
“That’s where we draw the line here in Congress,” Romualdez said.
Romualdez said concerned agencies must ensure closer cooperation and get their acts together to ensure an effective campaign against hoarders and manipulative traders, noting that the agencies give different data on the situation.
“We are also giving a budget to the DA and your agency, so we want to make sure you are performing optimally. It doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment—but we want to get there. Because 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.
He assured the officials from DA and DTI that they would have the full support of the House in waging an all-out war against hoarders and erring traders of onion and other agricultural products.
“We will help you, that’s why we’re here. You will not be powerless. We will use the power of the House. We will shine the light on them and then we will take them to account for this,” Romualdez told the DA and DTI officials present.
Among the DA officials present during the meeting were Undersecretary Mercedita A. Sombilla, Undersecretary for Policy, Planning and Regulations; Assistant Secretary Kristine Y. Evangelista, Assistant Secretary for Consumer Affairs; and Assistant Secretary. James A. Layug, Assistant Secretary for DA Inspectorate and Enforcement.
Undersecretary Ruth B. Castelo, of Consumer Protection Group; Werlina Lim, Division Chief, Price and Supply Division; Marco Maat, Deputy Department Legislative Liaison Officer (DDLLO); and Ma. Concepcion Simeon, Department Legislative Liaison Specialist (DLLS), were among the officials who represented DTI.
In a separate interview, Evangelista said that as part of the overall strategy the department will buy the harvest of onion farmers at P50 per kilo, or higher than the P20 per kilo production cost, and sell it at Kadiwa outlets.
She said the scheme is not exclusive to onions but may be applied to other agricultural products as well.
Castelo added the DTI and DA will both monitor the prices of strategic agriculture products like corn, sugar, cooking oil, and vegetables, which are said to be driving inflation in January 2023.
She noted that prime commodities like canned goods have no influence over the rising inflation rate since their price increases are controlled under the Suggested Retail Price (SRP) scheme of the DTI.
Inflation is forecast to hit 7.5 to 8.3 percent in January 2023, due to runaway prices of basic commodities which are not covered by the SRP.
The DTI is yet to issue the updated list of basic necessities and prime commodities (BNPCs). The release of the new SRP Bulletin has been delayed several times following an extensive review of pending petitions for increases.
Manufacturers have requested price hikes for commodities that include candles, bread, sardines, and canned meat products.