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Why people are smuggling onions into the Philippines

‘Giving family and friends the vegetable as coming-home gifts is just as special as giving them bars of the finest chocolates’.

Onions have become such a hot commodity in the Philippines amid sky-rocketing prices that they are now being smuggled into the country, customs officials have warned.


A price surge sparked by a spate of super typhoons that damaged crops last year has made the dietary staple for nearly every Filipino dish more expensive than beef and chicken.


Some economists believe the South East Asian country now has the world’s highest domestic onion prices.


Statistics from the department of agriculture showed that red and white onions were selling for as much as $11 per kilogramme on Monday, compared to $4 per kg for chicken, CNN reported.


Smugglers have jumped in to take advantage of the public’s desperation.


The Bureau of Customs claims to have intercepted smuggling syndicates that have attempted to illegally import huge quantities of onions in cargo shipments labelled as clothing items or home products, planning to hoard them in cold-storage warehouses.


In a major bust in December, $364,000-worth of red onions from China were found concealed in pastry boxes.


Kristine Evangelista, department of agriculture assistant secretary, told CNN Philippines that the authorities were also investigating price manipulation.


“We are looking at all angles in the same manner that we are also looking at all other options to be able to provide agricultural commodities at affordable prices,” she said.


The Khaleej Times reported that Filipino expats working in the UAE were now returning home with suitcases full of onions as gifts for their families.


“Now, handing family and friends red onions as coming-home gifts is just as special as giving them bars of the finest chocolates,” it said, citing the story of a Dubai resident called Jaze, who travelled to Manila with 10kg of onions in her luggage.


Dina Gacula Odo, an admin officer in Dubai, was also quoted as travelling with 4kg of cling-wrapped onions.


“While I was waiting for my flight at the boarding gate, many other Filipinos I flew with were talking about all the onions they had in their luggage. It’s now pretty common,” she said.

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