Ombudsman eyes ‘conspiracy’ in purchase of ‘pricey’ onions

Photo by Analy Labor / Daily Tribune

The Office of the Ombudsman has questioned the Department of Agriculture and the Food Terminal Incorporated on their procurement of “pricey” onions from a Nueva Ecija cooperative when the local harvest season is just around the corner.

In a radio interview on Wednesday, Ombudsman Samuel Martires disclosed that his office will investigate if there is a “conspiracy between some officials of the DA and the private sector” behind the purchase of P140 million worth of onions from Bonena Multipurpose Cooperative, priced at P537 per kilo.

“Why did the government resort to purchasing high-priced onions? Can’t the government find cheaper ones?” he asked.

The anti-graft body also asked Agriculture Undersecretary Domingo Panganiban to explain why the government is importing onions when the harvest season is about to begin.

President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., as the concurrent Agriculture Secretary, has approved the importation of 21,060 metric tons of onions to address the supply gap that has allegedly caused prices to soar.

The Ombudsman said his office has stepped into the issue of the rising market prices of the agricultural commodity because “the public must know why the prices of onions suddenly increased this high.”

“We have decided to check what caused the prices of onions to increase… Our investigators wrote to the Department of Agriculture and the Food Terminal Incorporated yesterday (10 January) to ask why the (contract) was given to the Bonena Multipurpose Cooperative,” Martires said in Filipino.

Martires said if his office is able to establish a “conspiracy” between the government and the private sector in the purchase of onions, the case will be referred to the Department of Justice.

“We have to wait for the explanation of FTI… why they chose to procure the onions from this particular cooperative,” he said.

If the procurement was done “through negotiation” and “not through bidding”, the Ombudsman said the concerned government officials must justify why they resorted to the move. Israel Reguyal, chair of the Bonena Multipurpose Cooperative, had earlier claimed that traders began a bidding process for the produce last month.

The DA must also explain what measures it has undertaken to support the onion farmers that could have averted the crisis, Martires added.


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