On 16 January, Merlita Gallardo shared the plight of onion farmers in Bayambang, Pangasinan in Northern Luzon. Her husband took his own life in 2021 after an armyworm infestation destroyed their crops and left them buried in debt reaching into the millions. Gallardo continued planting onions as she had in the past, but a series of storms in 2022 destroyed her crops. After she had replanted onions, yet another challenge came – this time, it was man-made: the arrival of cheap onion imports that would drive farmgate prices down just as they were beginning their harvest season. 

Gallardo’s case is just one of many similar stories of onion farmers constantly driven to desperation as cheap imported agricultural imports destroy the local agricultural market.

Like in previous regimes, Maros Jr. as secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), resorted to importation as solution to the food crisis. At the start of the year, the DA allowed the importation of 21,060 metric tons of onion in response to prices soaring above the world average. Farmers pleaded to stop the importation, as it would hurt their incomes not even enough to break-even production costs as it is. But their pleas fell on deaf ears as Marcos Jr. set off his 8th trip abroad in under 7 months of his presidency while the rest of the toiling masses struggle with unbearably rising prices.

The move to import more onions into the market put into question the case of the disappearing 10,000 metric tons of onions supposedly in cold storage but were nowhere to be found, creating an artificial shortage that led to onion prices skyrocketing up to 1000% in January. These are clear indications of collusion happening between the Marcos Jr. government and agricultural cartels, manipulating the price of onions, and profiting off the misery of farmers and consumers.

These collusive price-fixing cartels distort the market price of agricultural produce to create artificial shortages which in turn allows them to raise prices. This results in millions of consumers unable to afford food and pushes more people into poverty while at the same time creating the conditions for cheap imports to come in as a means to curb the price inflation. As highly subsidized agricultural products enter the local market, domestic food producers, in this case onion farmers, become unable to compete with foreign goods.

This is on top of the price of sugar which remains very high, egg prices are rapidly on the rise while oil price hikes are relentless. Meanwhile, a recent report revealed that the country’s nine richest individuals have more money than 55 million Filipinos making inequality more pronounced than ever. Fighting inflation, inequality, and food shortages require no less than genuine land reform, and government support for local food producers.

The excessively inflated price of onion and other basic goods are a heavy blow to consumers, even as onion farmers accrue debt due to their losses and drown in their own tears.