DA: FTI onion order followed procurement rules

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THE Department of Agriculture (DA) said a P537 per kilogram of domestic onion order placed by Food Terminal, Inc. (FTI), a unit of the National Food Authority (NFA), followed procurement rules, amid concerns that it paid inflated prices for the commodity, in turn setting a high benchmark price for resellers.

The Office of the Ombudsman announced an investigation into alleged collusion by government officials and the private sector to rig onion prices.

Rex C. Estoperez, Agriculture deputy spokesperson, told reporters on Wednesday that the FTI, a government-owned and -controlled corporation (GOCC), is cooperating with the investigation.

“Let the FTI (disclose the details of) their transaction with the cooperative,” Mr. Estoperez said, adding that the DA has nothing to hide because the procurement exercise was above board.

FTI is 99% owned by the NFA, according to the Integrated Corporate Reporting system maintained by the Governance Council for GOCCs, the sector’s regulator. It engages in strategic purchasing to stabilize prices. The NFA is in turn an arm of the DA.

According to a Jan. 10 order issued by the Ombudsman, Senior Undersecretary Domingo F. Panganiban was ordered to submit a sworn comment within three days the onion purchase.

The Ombudsman is also asking the DA to explain the shortage of onions and a separate decision to import onions coinciding with the domestic onion harvest.  

The DA has also authorized the import of 21,060 metric tons of onions, giving importers until Jan. 27 to land their shipments, as a counter to the high retail price of onions.

Kristine Y. Evangelista, DA spokesperson, said that DA is looking at the farmgate price and studying possible price manipulation somewhere along the supply chain after the onions leave the farm.

DA price monitoring as of Wednesday put the price of red and white onions in wet markets at P350 and P550 per kilogram respectively, against P420 and P600 on Tuesday.

“Price manipulation is a possibility because of the sudden price movement and it is hard to explain… we were looking at who is manipulating the price of onions from cold storage but now we are seeing that the movement of price is in the farmgate,” Ms. Evangelista told reporters.

Ms. Evangelista said that the price movements were probably the result of fresh supply from the domestic harvest, adding that price manipulation is suspected, with the DA also looking into how retailers are pricing the commodity. — Ashley Erika O. Jose