Dalipe, Quimbo wonder if onion supply data are being 'faked' to justify price surge

Are government data on onion supply being 'faked' to justify the soaring prices of the commodity?

House Majority Leader Mannix Dalipe (left) and Marikina City 2nd district Rep. Stella Quimbo (Screenshots from Zoom)

House Majority Leader, Zambonga City 2nd district Rep. Mannix Dalipe and Marikina City 2nd district Rep. Stella Quimbo want this question answered.

The two ranking congressmen were among those who took part Wednesday afternoon, Feb. 8 in the initial hearing-slash-inquiry of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food on the alleged hoarding of onions and other agricultural products.

They were quick to cite red flags in data shared by Department of Agriculture (DA) representatives during the hearing, which was carried out mainly to unmask the hoarders that have been contributing to the price spikes of common goods such as onions.

"There were reports that we had sufficient onion and garlic, and here comes the months of October, November, December, na tumaas yung presyo (the prices went up)," Dalipe said during his interpellation of the attending Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) personnel. The BPI is an attached agency of the DA.

"If the reports were true , why would the price go up? So anong ginagawa nung ahensyang nagmo-monitor? (The agency tasked to monitor did what?)" he asked.

"Totoo ba or peke ba yung scenario na may supply? Pineke ba yung datos na may supply para sumipa yung presyo, tumaas, para magkaroon ng opportunity ba yung mga smuggler, ganun ba yun? (Is the scenario that there is supply true or fake? Were the supply data faked to pave the way for the price hike, and give smugglers an opportunity, is that what happened?)" added Dalipe.

Dalipe also found it odd BPI didn't have Will Builders Incorporated (WBI) in their records. WBI was described as among the biggest cold storage firms in the country.

"Everything is about your supply. If you cannot know how much supply you have then it's very difficult for us to strategize; kailangan ba tayong mag-import or hindi (do we need to import or not)," he said.

"Yung mga datos natin, artificial lang ba yan? Pinepeke lang ba yan? Di ba? May laman ba yung cold storage? Wala bang laman yung cold storage? Kasi dyan mo malalaro yung presyo (Is the data that we have artificial? Are these being faked? Are they? Are these cold storages occupied? Are they empty? Because that's where price manipulation comes in)," explained the Mindanaoan.

Meanwhile, Quimbo, a senior vice chairperson of the House Committee on Appropriations, was visibly irked when the DA couldn't explain the 39 percent increase in local demand for onion from 2021 to 2022 that the agency itself reported.

DA figures showed that for the previous 10 years or from 2011 to 2021, the annual increase in demand for onions was pegged at only 5 percent.

“Yun ang para sa akin bagong misteryo. Paano niyo maipapaliwanag yun? Kasi taun-taon naman ang magdi-drive ng increase in demand for onion is population growth. Hindi naman nagbabago ang paggisa natin eh (That’s a new mystery to me. How can you explain that? Because for every year, population growth drives the demand for onions. The way we sauté doesn't change),” she said.

Quimbo then asked the resource persons from the DA: “May paliwanag ba kayo? Kasi kung wala kayong magandang paliwanag ng 39 percent increase in demand, iniimbento ninyo ang datos nato at jina-justify ninyo ang mataas na presyo ng sibuyas (Do you have an explanation? Because if you don't have a good explanation for the 39 percent increase in demand, then you just invented these data and are justifying the high prices of onions).”

Arnold Timoteo of the DA-High Value Crops Development Program said the demand is based on the per capita consumption provided by the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

“Mr. Chairman we’re going to revisit the data and then on Tuesday take note of the question we're going to answer the question,” Timoteo said, referring to the next scheduled hearing on Feb. 14.

The lady solon also demanded that the DA team that prepared the data be summoned by the committee to attend next week's hearing.