A total of 10 crew members from the Philippine Airlines (PAL) are undergoing investigation for trying to smuggle almost 40kg of onions and fruits from Riyadh and Dubai, according to The Philippine Star.
Cabin crew from two separate flights, PR655 and PR659, were caught with 27kg of onions and 11.5kg of other fruits, such as lemons, according to a memorandum from the Bureau of Customs (BOC) cited by the news outlet.
The total market value of the onions and fruits seized by the BOC was US$250 (S$330).
According to a subsequent report by Philippine Star, a spokesperson of the BOC said on Jan. 16 that the airline staff may be subjected to criminal charges for bringing back goods without proper declaration and certification.
Previous instances of onion smuggling
In December 2022, the BOC seized more than two containers weighing 50,000kg, which contained onions hidden within pastries and bread.
The approximate market value of the seized products was 20 million pesos (S$480,000).
In the same month, 20 containers of smuggled agricultural products from China - which contained red and white onions - were also seized, according to Rappler.
The products were allegedly worth more than 171 million pesos (S$4.12 million).
Why are people smuggling onions?
A Customs Commissioner told Rappler that they have been keeping a lookout for the smuggling of agricultural products because of the “high cost of onions in the markets”.
He was also quoted as saying that smuggling operations would further impact “farmers, the people, and the agricultural sector”.
According to a report by CNN Philippines, onion prices in the country have been rising steeply due to low supply and global inflation, which the Department of Agriculture (DA) has been keeping an eye on.
The price of a kilogram of onions has become twice or thrice more expensive than that of pork or chicken.
Additionally, the operations of cartels and illicit traders are pushing up prices as they apparently sell the goods illegally at much higher prices.
The DA also suspected that a syndicate might be stockpiling onions, causing their prices to skyrocket.
In late December 2022, the price of onions reportedly reached 720 pesos (S$17.36) per kg, causing the DA to implement a suggested retail price of 250 pesos ($6.03) per kg.
Importing as solution
Philippine authorities have been looking to import onions in order to increase their supply and push down prices.
Initially, the DA planned to import around 22,000 tonnes of onions, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
However, permits were only issued for the importation of 27 per cent of the initial planned amount, which makes up only 5,775 tonnes of onions, Bloomberg reported.
The onions are scheduled to arrive by Jan. 27, but are unlikely to be sufficient to boost local supply.
Top images via Twitter/@CustomsPH & Bureau of Customs