Quimbo asks DA exec if cartel exists in onion industry; here's the answer

A visibly irate Marikina City 2nd district Rep. Stella Quimbo asked a Department of Agriculture (DA) official during a House of Representatives panel briefing Wednesday Jan. 25 whether or not he believes there's a cartel in the local onion industry.

Marikina City 2nd district Rep. Stella Quimbo, and onions at a Quezon City supermarket (Ellson Quismorio/ MANILA BULLETIN)

"Ang hirap kumuha ng sagot sa DA. Diderechahin ko na lang (It's so difficult to get answers from the DA. I'll just to straight the point)," Quimbo said in her interpellation of Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) Director Gerald Glenn Panganiban.

The BPI is an attached agency of the DA.

"Director, naniniwala po ba kayo na may kartel dito sa ating industriya? (Director, do you believe that there's a cartel in this industry?)" asked the economist-solon.

Panganiban's answer lacked both authority and certainty.

"Ma'am hindi ko po ma-ano kung may cartel pero mukhang, aside from the production ma'am, at tsaka sa importation, ay mayroon pong parang nagko-kontrol nga po (Ma'am I can't--if there's a cartel, but it seems that, in both production and importation, something is exerting some kind of control).

"Hindi ko po alam kung yun nga po ang tawag dun madame (I don't know if that's the world you call it, madame)," Panganiban said.

In economics, a cartel is a formal agreement among firms in an oligopolistic industry. Cartel members may agree on a range of matters, including prices of their products.

"Well tama po yun, kasi sabi niyo 'kontol', kinikontrol ang suplay. Kanina sinabi nga natin parang may misteryo. Bakit sobrang taas ng presyo, pero ang tingin niyo, sapat naman ang suplay (Well you're correct when you said 'kontrol', the supply is being controlled. That's why I said earlier that there's a mystery. The prices are so high and yet, so said that you thought the supply was enough)," Quinbo, senior vice chairperson of the House Committee on Appropriations, told the BPI resource person.

Wednesday's briefing was carried out by the House Committee on Agriculture and Food chaired by Quezon 1st district Rep. Mark Enverga. The panel discussion focused on the prevailing high prices of local onions, which have reached as high as P700 a kilo.

A 'mystery'

Earlier in the proceedings, Quimbo called it a "mystery" how onion would hit such prices levels in a short amount of time. Onion prices spiked only last December.

Citing 2022 figures, the lady solon said: "Nakita naman natin, supply is about metric tons (MT), and the demand is about . So makikita natin, the shortage is only about 7 percent (We see that the supply is about 338,000 metric tons (MT) and the demand is about 363,000. So we see that the the shortage is only about 7 percent)."

"So hindi ko masyadong maintindihan kung bakit sobrang nag-skyrocket ang prices given that modest shortage (So I really can't understand why the prices skyrocketed given that modest shortage)," she added.

Turning to Panganiban, Quimbo said: "You agree with me? It doesn't make sense. Prices are determined by supply and demand. Ganun lang ka-simple yun (It's that simple)."

"So yun yung misteryo. Bilang isang ekonomista, hindi ko talaga maipaliwanag. Kaya napapaisip talaga ako na may mga misterio. Mayroon mga behind the scenes na hindi talaga natin nakikita. Kasama na po dyan ang kartel (So that's the mystery. As an economist, I really can't explain it. That's why I think there are mysteries. Things happen behind the scenes that we don't see. That includes the kartel)," she further said.