About 700 tonnes of garlic smuggled from Shandong will be auctioned off next week in Manila after soaring prices led to a change in policy.
The imports, worth at least 38.8 million pesos (HK$6.9 million), were seized two months ago after they arrived without the required government certification that they were pest-free and fit for human consumption, Customs Commissioner John Sevilla said.
Tuesday's auction will be unusual because in 2007 the government ordered the destruction of all confiscated agricultural products in order to curb smuggling, which harmed local garlic farmers' livelihoods.
"But as garlic prices soared in May this year, President Benigno Aquino directed the concerned agencies to review this policy and see how the seized garlic could be sold in the local market," Charo Logarta Lagamon, the bureau's public information and assistance division chief, said.
The garlic from China arrived at the Manila port on June 13 in 24 containers.
These were delivered to four local trading companies.
Sevilla said nothing barred the companies from bidding in the auction, provided they bid equal or higher than the floor price. This would mean they would be doubly punished because they would be paying twice for the same produce, he said.
Garlic became a hot issue as local market prices soared to as high as 300 pesos per kg. The rise was partly blamed on the renewed anti-smuggling drive.
But even legally imported garlic from China has discouraged Filipino farmers from planting because imports are so cheap.
"We only produce 10 per cent to 15 per cent of local demand," Lagamon said.
Sevilla refused to point to China as the top source of smuggled garlic, but said: "I think what's important to recognise is that smuggling happens in many ways. You have to attack each of those in a separate way."