Philippines customs slammed for humiliating Dubai, Riyadh crew over onion ‘smuggling’

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The Philippines Bureau of Customs has denied allegations of working with big scale onion smugglers after the department caught flak for humiliating flight attendants flying from Riyadh and Dubai who were caught bringing in 40 kilograms of the vegetables.

The government authority’s action against the 10 Philippine Airlines flight crew were condemned by senators since the action was seen as a smokescreen to the larger reported agriculture smuggling cases.

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“This one, we will punish, but big-time cartels, smugglers, and protectors go free?,” Senator JV Ejercito was quoted as asking by the Philippines-based Inquirer.net. Fellow senator Raffy Tulfo concurred and was quoted as saying in the same report: “I became hot-headed. Bureau of Customs, you flagged these airline crew. You intercepted something that is for their personal consumption only. How about big-time smugglers whose identities are being repeatedly mentioned? Why are you not arresting them?”

A video shared by the authorities showed the flight crew removing large packs of onions and spreading them on the floor, prior to discarding them in a humiliating fashion.

Of the total 40 kilograms, 27 kg were onions, 10.5 kg were lemons, and 1 kg were strawberries and blueberries. Importing any amount of agricultural products is considered illegal unless the required permits are procured.

In response to the allegations, the authorities said: “We deny the allegation because as you can see in the performance of the Bureau of Customs and the Department of Agriculture, our commissioner personally leads the fight against smugglers,” CNN Philippines reported on Wednesday.

One kilogram of onion now costs more than $11, the priciest the vegetable has been in the country for years. This historical rise made onions more expensive than meat, earning itself the title as the country’s new gold.

It has become out of reach for many in the Southeast Asian country where the minimum wage per day averages slightly over $10.

Food prices soared to a monthly record high in March after Russia invaded agricultural powerhouse Ukraine, a major supplier of wheat and cooking oil to the world.

The Food and Agriculture Organization’s price index was 14.3 percent higher overall in 2022 compared to the previous year as it reached an all-time high of 143.7 points.

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