Only 5,775 metric tons of the approved 21,060 metric tons (MT) of fresh imported onions have been initially cleared to enter the country before the peak harvest season, according to the Department of Agriculture (DA) on Monday.

Only 142 sanitary and phytosanitary import clearances for importation were issued from Jan. 9 to 13, DA Undersecretary Mercedita Sombilla said in the hybrid hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform

“We are hoping po sana, kasi kung 5,000 (metric tons) lang ‘yung darating, makakababa siya ng mga P200 to P220,” she said.

Local onion producers are insisting that the 22,000 metric tons originally proposed for importation will harm farmers.

“Sana ‘yung plano ng Department of Agriculture na mag-issue na naman ng importation permit para sa 22,000 metric tons, alam niyo po bang ‘yan ang papatay sa amin pong mga magsasaka?” San Jose Occidental Mindoro municipal agriculturist Romel Calingasan told the senators.

Besides the import volume, Calingasan expressed disappointment over the “wrong timing” of the import order issuance.

The DA reduced the proposed 22,000 import volume to 21,060 to “protect local farmers”.

For fresh red onions, 4,525 MT are expected to enter several ports — 3,875 metric tons in Manila; 400 MT in Davao; and 250 MT in Subic.

Around 1,250 metric tons of fresh yellow onions will also arrive in Manila (1,075 MT), Subic and Davao (75 MT each), and Cagayan de Oro (25 MT).

As of Friday, the prevailing price range of local red onions in Metro Manila range from PHP350 to PHP550 per kilo.

Smuggling
Senator JV Ejercito also advised the DA and the Bureau of Customs to train their guns on big-time smugglers.

He said Republic Act 10845 or the Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Act was signed in 2016 but no significant charges have been filed.

He said he will push for an amendment to include other government agencies, such as the National Bureau of Investigation, to be part of a task force that will strictly enforce the law.

He said the 11 kilograms of onions caught from 10 flight attendants of the Philippine Airlines (PAL) from the United Arab Emirates pale in comparison to what the smugglers hoard.

“’Yung PAL crew, nagdadala ‘yan ng pasalubong for personal consumption. Dati mansanas, ubas, pabango, sapatos. Ngayon, sibuyas na (The PAL crew brought onions for personal consumption. They used to bring in apples, grapes, perfumes, shoes as presents but now they prefer onions). So, this is already a cause of alarm,” Ejercito said.

Senator Raffy Tulfo, meanwhile, advised the DA to coordinate with other investigating agencies and see to it that they file cases against big-time smugglers.

“Lets help the farmers. Kawawa sila kung may shortage, tsaka kayo mag-isip kung paano mapapalakas ang produksyon, hindi puro importasyon (Lets help the farmers. Have pity on them. If there is a shortage, lets see how we can help their productions. Don’t rely on importation),” he said.

Senator Risa Hontiveros also urged a two-step policy in granting imports – importing half of the 21,060 MT and waiting first for the local harvest before proceeding with the rest. (PNA)

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