President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has recently ordered concerned agencies to investigate and put a stop to smugglers and hoarders of agricultural products resulting in artificial shortages and high prices of commodities such as onions. The President is quite empathic in stating during his appearance in the Livestock and Aquaculture Philippines Expo 2023 held in Pasay City that he
has had enough of the smuggling, hoarding and price manipulation of vital commodities that has affected the overall stability of the economy.

But even before the President declared that the gloves are off on those involved with hoarding and smuggling the House of Representative’s Committee on Agriculture and Food had already initiated at least nine hearings to investigate personalities allegedly behind the smuggling of basic commodities and have even identified the supposed operator of the biggest onion cartel in the country. During the said inquiry in aid of legislation the lower house committee zeroed in on one Lilia “Lea” Cruz who was tagged as the person who is behind the alleged manipulation resulting in the steep price of onions.

What is disturbing is that during the committee investigation it was bared that Ms. Cruz was able to set up an infrastructure participated in by farmers, vendors, importers, exporters and band them
together into one group, the Philippine Vegetable Importers, Exporters and Vendors Association
(PhilVIEVA) that she apparently used to control the onion supply in the market.

One can just imagine the craftiness employed by this individual, and perhaps some of her other associates, where they cornered the supply of onions by simply buying it in bulk from the source (farmers) or making sure that all onion imports will go to them and then hoarding the supply in warehouses or other facilities that they control until an artificial shortage is created.

When the shortage is felt in the markets their association or other front companies will then determine how, when and even which traders their hoarded supply will be released. By that time because of the artificial shortage they have created they can already demand the price of the
commodity and the consuming public will have no choice but to suffer the consequences of buying onions that have become more expensive than meat.

This is economic sabotage of the highest level where one commodity in the market is controlled by a few individuals and dictating the price all at the expense of and to the prejudice of the public.  Now that the gloves are off the government should act with dispatch in investigating and putting behind bars those who would seek to create an artificial shortage of basic commodities and cause its increase in price all to unjustly enrich themselves at the expense of the buying public.

If there is an onion cartel as believed by the house of representatives in their investigation then they should immediately recommend to the concerned agencies or offices to file the appropriate cases against those involved in the said cartel and prosecute them to the fullest in the courts of law.

A cartel as defined is an “organization formed by producers to limit competition and increase prices by creating artificial shortages through low production quotas, stockpiling (hoarding), and marketing quotas”. Cartels restrict competition in the market and thus affect the stability of the economy since they can dictate the price of commodities or products.

This is a form of economic sabotage and just a couple of days ago the Department of Justice headed by Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla already revealed to the media that they have begun building a case of economic sabotage against those identified to be allegedly involved in the onion cartel and will use as reference the result of the House committee investigation which is almost similar to what they have uncovered in their own investigation of the matter.

The government should not rest until all of those involved in basic commodity price manipulation and hoarding of supply are put behind bars where they should rightly belong.

Amianan Balita Ngayon