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House panel subpoenas warehouse owners over onion supply, high prices

The House Agriculture and Food Committee on Monday subpoenaed four warehouse owners to find out the reason why there was a shortage and subsequent increase in onion prices from September to December last year.

The motion to issue subpoenas on Aleli Lopez of Tian Long Trading, Elmer Francisco of Royal Cargo, Renato Francisco of Yom Trading, and William Lim of Morehouse Marketing was made by Quezon Representative Jayjay Suarez.

The motion was passed by the panel after its chairperson, Wilfrido Enverga of Quezon, noted that the owners failed to appear in the committee hearings on the onion supply despite repeated invitations.

Suarez said data from warehouses was crucial given that a certain Vivian Cudia could store as much as 100,000 bags of onions under her name at the Argo cold storage facility in Palayan, Nueva Ecija.

Suarez's figures were based on information provided to the committee by Argo's Patrick John Sevilla.

“That is a very considerable amount [to store] for an individual habang napakataas ng presyo ng sibuyas (while the onion prices are skyrocketing),” Suarez said.

Asked for further details on Cudia, Sevilla said Cudia was a known trader in the community and an owner of substantial farmland.

"I assume, farmer rin po siya (I assume she is also a farmer)," said Sevilla.

Sevilla also testified that Argo cold storage usually started taking in produce by mid-February, which is the harvest season, and was full by the first week of May.

The onion supply was then unloaded from August onwards.

Sevilla added that Argo’s last day of operation in 2022 was November 30.

"Generally, it's buy low and sell high, taken [also] into consideration that it is not every year that they make money," said Sevilla, responding to queries on how farmers and traders do business.

Iloilo Representative Janet Garin agreed with Suarez’s observation that warehouse officials should explain why there was an apparent shortage during the last quarter of 2022.

“If you don’t unload the supply, we will have to import a lot,” Garin said.

“The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Trade and Industry should be able to stop collusion between the traders,” Garin added.

Onion prices last year reached P500 to P700 per kilo. — DVM, GMA Integrated News