Metro Manila, Philippines — President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Tuesday ordered an investigation into the smuggling of onions and other agricultural products, saying the act was equivalent to economic sabotage.

“I have just given instructions to the DOJ and the NBI to initiate an investigation into the hoarding, smuggling (and) price fixing of agricultural commodities. And this is stemming from the hearing that we’ve conducted in the House, specifically by Congresswoman Stella Quimbo and the findings that they came up with,” said Marcos.

In May, Marikina Rep. Stella Quimbo, the vice chairperson of the House Appropriations Committee, alleged that Lilia “Lea” Cruz engineered the artificial spike in onion prices late last year until the early part of 2023 through companies involved in all levels of the value chain.

Cruz established the Philippine Vegetable Importers, Exporters and Vendors Association (PhilVIEVA), which Quimbo claimed is being used for operating the alleged onion cartel.

Cruz, on the other hand, denied she had a hand in the soaring prices of onions, which went up to P700 per kilogram in 2022.

Marcos said the findings from the series of hearings were enough to start the investigation, adding that the people behind the price manipulation would be brought to justice.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said it would create an Anti-Agricultural Smuggling Task Force which, along with a special team of prosecutors, would be “primarily focused on protecting the entire agricultural sector, not only the onion industry.”

In a separate statement, the DOJ said the Office of the Prosecutor General and the National Bureau of Investigation would be among the members of the task force.

“The shared objective is clear: to dismantle these smuggling networks and ensure that those responsible are brought to justice,” said the DOJ.