PCC: Probe on possible onion cartel underway

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 17) — The Philippine Competition Commission (PCC) on Thursday said it has been looking into the cause of high prices of onions late last year, when cost breached ₱700 per kilo.

In a statement, the competition watchdog said its probe started in November 2022 for possible cartel or abuse of dominance conduct. 

“As prices are seen to stabilize due to the imports and the SRP [suggested retail price] set last Feb. 6, the PCC is looking into the cause of such market anomaly in coordination with the sector regulators and other law enforcement agencies,” it noted, referring to the ₱125 per kilogram SRP set by the Department of Agriculture (DA) for imported red onions.

The PCC said this is also consistent with the probe prompted by House Speaker Martin Romualdez and House Resolution No. 681 filed by Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo.

To address the soaring prices of onions amid an alleged supply shortage, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who is also the DA secretary, approved its importation in January.

Several lawmakers, however, wanted it suspended saying it will only harm local farmers who are then set to harvest their produce.

Speaking to CNN Philippines on Feb. 13, Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Chairman Rosendo So said the group expects cheaper costs of onions by March as the harvest season continues, with supply seen to be enough until September. 

So noted that the farmgate price of a kilogram of red onions is seen to decline from the current ₱150 to ₱60 by next month, while a kilo of white onions is seen to drop from ₱50 to ₱35.

Under the Philippine Competition Act, those found guilty of taking advantage of the situation may be fined up to ₱100 million, and may also face jail time of up to seven years, the PCC warned.

"The fines may even be tripled if trade of basic necessities, including agricultural products identified by the Price Act, are involved in cartel or abuse of dominance violations," it added.

According to DA’s latest price monitoring in Metro Manila markets, a kilo of local red onion currently costs ₱160 to ₱300, while local white onions range from ₱100 to ₱150.

Meanwhile, medium sized imported red onions cost ₱125 a kilo, and the big ones ₱110 to ₱180.

For imported white onions, the medium sized are sold at ₱130 to ₱150, while big ones cost ₱120 to ₱200.