‘Onion’ Is Gold

by Seneca Moraleda-Puguan

Magdadala ba kayo ng sibuyas?” (Will you bring onions?), asked my brother who lives in Canada.My sister who lives down under replied, “Baka magdala ako para hindi na tayo bumili sa Pinas.” (I might bring some, so we don’t have to buy in the Philippines.)

I said, “Basta ako magdadala.” (I will definitely bring.)

My American citizen mother warned us, “Huwag kayo magdadala ha? Baka magka-issue kayo sa customs.” (Don’t bring onions, ok? You might have issues with the customs.)

We all laughed. This was our recent conversation in our family Facebook chatroom. We are all preparing to go home to the Philippines for a family reunion. The onion price might be a butt of joke for us, but it is a serious issue our nation is facing.

Of course, we know we are prohibited to bring fresh produce but honestly, it is so tempting to carry onions with us to avoid being overwhelmed by the soaring prices back home. Besides, Korean onions are excellent.

Even before the holiday season at the end of 2022, the price of onion has been continuously increasing, in fact, it is being considered like gold. A kilo has reached 800 pesos or approximately 14 US dollars, making it the most expensive onion in the world.

Meat is even cheaper, with chicken only costing around 220 pesos (4 USD) per kilo. A friend of mine gave it as a Christmas gift. I even saw someone making it as a reward for a raffle contest. Many Filipinos make memes about it to make light of the situation, but everyone is definitely affected by this (seemingly simple but in reality complicated) issue. Why is this a big deal? Onion is a vital ingredient, along with garlic, in nearly every Filipino dish. Local favorites such as sinigang, ginisa, pansit won’t be complete without this staple base.

If the price of this well-loved bulb keeps rising, how can ordinary Filipinos, especially those who cannot even buy meat, afford this essential vegetable? Many might have to settle eating bland and mediocre Pinoy food.

What can possibly be the cause of this crisis? This onion issue is basically a reflection of a deeper crisis our country is facing. According to experts, aside from the low supply, inflation and climate change send onion prices to rocket high.

Onions grow during the cool seasons. They are planted from September to December, and the harvest season starts earliest in December and ends in June.

With the Russia-Ukraine war causing a worldwide economic crisis and affecting the supply chain, prices of food and basic commodities have skyrocketed.

Aside from this, the Philippines, being a tropical country, is vulnerable to extreme weather conditions and severe typhoons affecting the growth of crops.

Given these factors affecting the supply, and the high demand for onion with consumption of it all year round in the Philippines, there will surely be misalignment and prices will rise inevitably. What now? The Philippine government officials are looking for ways to mitigate this crisis. One of the solutions they have is to import onions from other countries like China, but this is only temporary.

This is a balance beam they have to walk on as they also have to consider the welfare of local farmers who are already struggling. The government is also trying to prevent the smuggling of onions into the country by those who want to manipulate the price and take advantage of the situation. What do we do? Wait. Endure. Pray. Let’s wait for the supply to normalize and trust that the government is making ways to address this pressing concern. Endure the wait. People might have to be resourceful and creative in cooking local dishes. And let’s pray for our country’s economy to get better.

Let’s pray for the farmers to rise up from this crisis, that they may be able to produce the needed supply of onion for the whole county. Let’s pray for wisdom to be upon the government to be able to tackle and create solutions for the problems the country is facing.

Let’s pray for provision for the Filipino people that they may be able to buy their basic needs and sustain their families. As my family spends time with our loved ones in the Philippines, of course, we won’t smuggle onions, but we will definitely buy onions despite the high prices because we want to enjoy the authentic Filipino dishes we have missed eating for a long time.

We are fortunate that we will be able to afford to buy a kilo of onion. But with every bite, I am sure that my mother, my siblings, and I will have a deeper appreciation of the onions we get to enjoy in the countries we live in now.

As we devour and savor the Filipino dishes we love, we will remember every ordinary Filipino family that struggles to get by each day and doesn’t have the luxury our family gets to enjoy.

We will have greater gratitude for the onion that seems ordinary to us but is ‘gold’ and precious to others. Life indeed has a way to humble us. The onion we usually take for granted reminds us of the more important things in life.

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