MANILA, Philippines — Hundreds of onion farmers and traders from Nueva Ecija protested at the Department of Agriculture (DA) headquarters in Quezon City, on Monday, lamenting the agency’s “inappropriate, ill-timed” issuance of import permits.
Seth V. Bentain, spokesperson of the Sibuyas ng Pilipinas Ating Alagaan (Sipag, Let’s Care for Philippine Onions), said in an interview they would like the multi-stakeholder body, National Onion Action Team or NOAT, to be abolished and replaced with a new one with a clean slate.
Bentain said some 300 farmers came on Monday aboard buses and private vehicles, and were joined by garlic farmers and traders with similar concerns. Garlic growers are represented in the similarly made-up National Garlic Action Team.
The protesters came from the towns of Bongabon, Laur and Sto. Domingo. They left DA’s front gates by noon to return to Nueva Ecija.
“Our main concerns include the lack of support whatsoever for the local onion industry – not a centavo of subsidy nor a single piece of seed,” Bentain said.
“We also decry the improper issuance of import permits and the rampant smuggling of onions (from abroad), which hurt our business,” he added.
Bentain, himself an onion grower, said the DA has been using wrong data in deciding when to allow importation, and has allowed imports during harvest and when there were big onion stocks in cold storage facilities.
“Worse, they issue as many as 180 permits in one blow,” he said. “How can that be of any support to us local stakeholders?”
Clarito Barron, director of the DA’s Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI), dismissed as baseless the accusations that the BPI has been playing favorites in the issuance of import permits.
“The government’s policy on onion importation is anchored on transparency and consultation,” Barron said in a statement.
He cited the NOAT itself, describing it as being composed of stakeholders from the government and private sector, and non-government organizations such as farmer groups and associations.
Any decision on onion importation “is fully discussed based on the data and information collected by the BPI Allium Task Force such as onion inventory, local production as well as the prevailing market price,” Barron said.
He said that the BPI has been regularly communicating with Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon to apprehend and confiscate smuggled onions.
He said that in 2012, a total of 32 forty-foot container vans of contraband were seized, and which were eventually disposed of and condemned.
“If ever there is an unforeseen insufficient supply of onions, NOAT will recommend importation for a certain period based on actual needs,” Barron said.