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MANILA – House Speaker Ferdinand Martin G. Romualdez on Monday met with officials from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), asking them to initiate an all-out war against hoarders and unscrupulous traders of onion and other agricultural products.

Among the action plans firmed up during the meeting include the DA tapping of its PHP276 million Kadiwa Food Mobilization Fund under the 2023 budget to buy the harvest of farmers at prices higher than the production cost, and sell it through Kadiwa at farm gate prices to force hoarders to unload their stocks.

Last Sunday, Romualdez warned hoarders and traders manipulating the supply and prices of onion and other agricultural commodities that their days are numbered.

“We cannot allow it anymore. It’s too much. Kawawa ang tao (people are suffering),” he said.

He asked the DA and DTI officials to help Congress identify these unscrupulous businessmen so they can be invited to the forthcoming congressional investigation on the manipulation of supply and prices of agricultural products.

“If you know who these people are, let us know. We will invite all of them, if not, have the authorities arrest them,” he told officials.

Romualdez said the lawmakers recognize the right of businessmen under a regime of free trade to earn profit but it should not come at the expense and misery of the people.

“That’s where we draw the line here in Congress,” he added.

He urged concerned agencies to ensure closer cooperation and get their acts together to conduct an effective campaign against hoarders and manipulative traders, noting that the agencies give different data on the situation.

“We are also giving a budget to the DA and your agency so we want to make sure you are performing optimally. It doesn’t seem to be the case at the moment—but we want to get there. Because at the end of the day, with the best data, the best feedback, we can make the best policies so we can avoid this situation where some unscrupulous personalities and cartels are taking advantage of the situation,” he said.

He assured the DA and DTI officials that they would have the full support of the House in waging an all-out war against hoarders and erring traders of onion and other agricultural products.

“We will help you, that’s why we’re here. You will not be powerless. We will use the power of the House. We will shine the light on them and then we will take them to account for this,” he said.

Romualdez asked Committee on Agriculture chairman Rep. Mark Enverga to use all the power and resources “to get to the bottom of this.”

During the meeting, DA Assistant Secretary Kristine Evangelista said as part of the overall strategy, the department will buy the harvest of onion farmers at PHP50 per kilo, or higher than the PHP20 per kilo production cost, and sell it at Kadiwa outlets.

“Our target is supposed to be farmgate price, pero dapat kumita si (but there must be profit for) farmer. If our cost to produce is at PHP20 and then through Kadiwa its going to be bought at PHP50 (per kilo), tapos mabenta natin (then we can sell) at farmgate,” Evangelista said.

She said the scheme is not exclusive to onion but may be applied to other agricultural products as well.

Aside from buying the produce of local farmers, the DA will also help them by providing access to cold storage facilities.

“Kasama nun is (It includes) the cold storage facilities also. The idea there is to provide all the other infrastructure needed by our farmers to be able to sell their commodity at a good price,” Evangelista said.

Aside from addressing the persistent problem of hoarding agricultural products, Romualdez stressed that in the long run, the government must invest more in agriculture and provide more support to farmers to enhance productivity. (PNA)