Aircrew members from the Philippines are facing smuggling charges after attempting to smuggle 27 kg of onions into the country from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
The 10 Philippines Airlines crew members arrived in the country on two separate flights, one from Dubai and one from Riyadh on Friday, and were caught by customs with 27 kg of onions, 10.5 kg of lemons and a kilogram of strawberries and blueberries, local media sources reported.
The confiscated foods were found in the flight attendants' suitcases when they arrived at Manila International Airport.
Lawyer Ma Lourdes Mangaoang told a local radio station that the flight attendants did not declare the confiscated vegetables and fruits when filling out customs forms.
Speaking to Dubai newspaper the Khaleej Times, a Philippines government official clarified that putting onions - or any other agricultural product - in cargo is considered as importing produce, even if it is a small amount intended for personal use.
"Vegetables and fruits are imported through a certain process, which requires the receipt of various permits," said Nolt Fulgencio, Agriculture Attaché at the Consulate General of the Philippines in Dubai and the Northern UAE.
Fulgencio's comment comes at a time during which many Filipino travelers are flying home with suitcases full of onions after the price of the vegetable soared to 600 Pesos (NIS 37) per kilogram.
A bitter end for the onions, and the crew
The customs authorities transferred the smuggled agricultural produce to the Plant Quarantine Office for immediate destruction.
The crew members are now expected to face charges of smuggling and violation of the Philippine Customs Tariff Law and Presidential Decree 1433 for breaking a law that requires plants to be quarantined before entering the country.
The airline was informed of the incident and flight attendants were reminded that bringing any fruit or plants into the country is prohibited, according to a Philippine Airlines spokesperson.