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Lawmakers question ‘conflicting’ PSA and BPI data on onion supply

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Lawmakers on Wednesday questioned the data discrepancies between the Bureau of Plant and Industry (BPI) and the Philippine Statistic Authority (PSA), which they say might have resulted in possible hoarding and price manipulation on agricultural commodities, particularly onions and garlic.

During the motu proprio inquiry of the House Committee on Agriculture and Food, Majority Leader Manix Dalipe questioned the contrasting numbers coming from these two agencies, saying the lower chamber will continue to find out what went wrong on the possible hoarding and price manipulation of agricultural products.

“If you cannot know how much supply you have then it’s very difficult for us to strategize, like if we need to import or not. Is our data artificial? Are you faking all these? May laman ba ang cold storage? This is possible, what if cold storages are empty and your reports say they are full what will happen to the market because of the wrong data?” Dalipe asked the BPI.

“BPI should know this because you are our guide to make the right decision and data from the BPI should be accurate to stabilize the supply,” he added.

The Department of Agriculture (DA) said the country should be self-sufficient when it comes to onions since it produces 312,830 metric tons (MT) of the said agricultural product.

Meanwhile, local consumption of onions is only at 21,000 MT per month or 252,000 MT in a year.

However, due to lack of cold storage capacity for agricultural products, very few of the harvested onions are stockpiled.

Also, Sagip Rep. Rodante Marcoleta questioned the discrepancies between the data of the BPI and the PSA submitted to the lower chamber.

“In 2020 our sufficiency level was at 113 percent, in 2021 at 120 percent and in 2022 at 120 percent. But our question is why we don’t have a supply of onions, we can clearly see that there is hoarding here,” he alleged.

“We were being misled by the statistics you supply,” added Marcoleta.

For his part, Arnold Timoteo of the BPI said the PSA is using a different methodology in computing its data.

“The production data we have, we get them from LGUs [local government unit], and we consolidate all the data they submitted” he said.

“Based on our data for the second quarter of 2022, the sufficiency level is at 210 percent, for the 3rd quarter it was down to 114 percent, for November, we suffered 17 days shortage,” he said.

Meanwhile, Reynaldo Vallesteros Jr. of the PSA said they based their data on the information they gathered from the production areas they visited.

“We will clear this data. We will verify our records and submit it to the lower chamber. For now we cannot confirm nor deny this,” he said.

But Marikina Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo expressed alarm at the data discrepancies between the two agencies.

“From 2011 to 2021, the increase in annual demand is modest [at 5 percent] which is believable because of the population increase,” she said.

“But from 2021 to 2022 there was a 39 percent increase in demand on onions. For me this is a big mystery. How will you explain that? It’s a miracle that from 2021 to 2022 something happened and we registered a 39 percent increase in demand to 363,000 MT in 2022,” added Quimbo.

Without clear explanation from the BPI, Quimbo believed that their data was “reengineered data.”

“This is so alarming, all data on productions say there should be no shortage,” said Quimbo, “ang driver ng shortage ay lumalabas ay yung demand pero may paliwanag ba kayo? kasi kung wala kayong maganda paliwanag ini-imbento nyo ang datos na to at and you are justifying ang taas ng sibuyas.”

Meanwhile, aside from addressing the persistent problem of hoarding agricultural products, House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Mark Enverga said farmers are asking government’s help to fight smuggling and unscrupulous trading, which resulted in fluctuating farm-gate prices and unstable market price, lack of harvest and available cold storage facilities, and the need for calibrated importation.

“It is sad to hear that our onion farmers are discouraging their children to take on the task of being the next generation farmers and instead they would want their children to pursue different directions as farming is not a profitable endeavor,” said Enverga.

Earlier, Speaker Martin Romualdez asked profit-hungry traders manipulating or hoarding the supply and prices of agricultural products such as onion to “moderate their greed” or suffer the dire consequences.

According to Romualdez, there is no reason for the prices of commodities such as onion and garlic to soar sky-high because there is sufficient supply based on the information reaching the House.

“It only points out one thing, there is hoarding, there is price manipulation. So we are warning those who are behind these nefarious activities—that your days are numbered, the House will be going after you,” Romualdez said.

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