The Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) said Thursday it has been investigating the high prices of onions for possible cartel or abuse of dominance conduct since November last year when it started to escalate.
In a statement, the PCC said this was consistent with the probe prompted by House Speaker Martin G. Romualdez and House Resolution No. 681 filed by Marikina Rep. Stella A. Quimbo.
The commission said it launched its market assessment as onion retail prices were observed at an “unusual high range” and peaked at P600 per kilo in December 2022.
“PCC is looking into the cause of such market anomaly in coordination with the sector regulators and other law enforcement agencies, despite reports of onion prices starting to stabilize due to the arrival of imports and after the Department of Agriculture (DA) imposed a suggested retail price (SRP) of P150 per kilogram (kg) on February 6, 2023,” it said.
Under the Philippine Competition Act (PCA), businesses found to have taken advantage of the situation may be fined up to P100 million and even face jail time of up to seven years.
The fines may triple if the trade of basic necessities, including agricultural products identified by the Price Act, are involved in cartel or abuse of dominance violations, the PCC added.
Romualdez had vowed the government will go after unscrupulous traders and hoarders of onion and garlic, whose days “are numbered.”
“We received information that these people are hoarding onion, and more recently even garlic, to create an artificial scarcity in supply and induce price increases,” he said last week. “This is economic sabotage.”
The Speaker instructed the House committee on agriculture and food, chaired by Quezon Rep. Wilfrido Mark Enverga, to conduct an investigation and, if warranted by evidence, to recommend the filing of criminal charges against the people behind the scheme.
The House panel will also consider recommending to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. the “calibrated importation” of onion and garlic to force these hoarders to unload their stocks and drive prices down.
This importation, however, should not in any way prejudice the welfare of local farmers, Romualdez said.
“It is very important to ensure that any importation should consist of such quantity and be done well ahead of the harvest season to avoid any adverse effect on the livelihood of our local farmers,” he said.
The Leyte lawmaker also wants the appropriate government agencies to monitor the prices of onion and garlic in the local markets.
“People are still trying to recover from the (COVID-19) pandemic. The last thing we need is an unreasonable rise in food prices,” he said.
He said the government should equally address the smuggling of onion and other agricultural products that stifles the local industry.
Onion smuggling continues unabated with government operatives reporting that they have seized agricultural and fishery products worth more than P202 million last January, in line with President Marcos’ directive to safeguard the welfare of Filipino farmers and fishers.
Included in the seizures at the Manila International Container Port (MICP) were nine container vans belonging to Seaster Consumer Goods, which were found to contain fresh red and white onions with a total estimated market value of P77.8 million.