DA rebuffs involvement in alleged ‘tong-pats’ on pork imports

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DAVAO CITY — The Department of Agriculture (DA) rebuffed any involvement in the alleged “tong-pats” or price-padding scheme and other irregularities on pork importation, during a public hearing conducted by the Senate of the Philippines, on April 12, 2021.

“On the alleged ‘tong-pats’ of about five to seven pesos per kilo of imported pork, the present DA leadership categorically denies any involvement if such scheme indeed exists,” Agriculture Secretary William Dar told the Senate “committee-of-the-whole,” chaired by Senate President Vicente Sotto.

“On my personal and official capacity as secretary of the Department of Agriculture (DA), the undersigned is one with President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in the strict observance of good governance and no corruption in government, and will never allow any corrupt practice under his stead and leadership,” the DA chief added.

The hearing was conducted to give light on an earlier claim of Senator Panfilo Lacson that an alleged syndicate at the DA is getting kickbacks for every kilo of imported pork.

The Philippines imports agricultural commodities, including pork and other pork products, under the minimum access volume (MAV) scheme, which is part of the country’s commitment under the World Trade Organization (WTO) to facilitate trade among WTO member-countries.

The country is allowed to import 54,000 metric tons (MT) of pork yearly under the MAV with an in-quota tariff of 30 percent (%). Beyond said volume or out-quota, imports are levied with a higher tariff of 40%.

Secretary Dar said allocating the MAV to qualified importers or licensees adheres to strict regulations and guidelines, ensuring a transparent and non-discretionary systematic distribution procedure.

“The allocation is done through raffle. The initial MAV allotment this year has long been set and fixed. Yearly or mid-year allocation may be conducted depending on the pooled amount of allocations that were either surrendered or automatically deducted as penalty for regular licensees that failed to meet the 70% utilization requirement within the allowable period of time,” he said.

Due to the African Swine Fever (ASF), the country‘s hog population has dwindled by more than three million heads, from 12.7 million in January 2020 to 9.7 million in January 2021, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

Hence for the entire 2021, the DA through its national livestock program directorate projected that the country would have a supply deficit of 388,563 metric tons (MT) of pork, based on a supply estimate of 1,229,702 MT against a total demand of 1,618,355 MT.

The MAV advisory committee, composed of various stakeholders, recommended to the inter-agency MAV management committee that the MAV be increased this year to 400,000 MT.

Secretary Dar told the senators that increasing pork imports under the in-quota MAV is “but a temporary measure to be implemented for only one year, under strict monitoring and supervision by the inter-agency MAV Management Committee.”

During the hearing, he updated the Senate on the DA‘s current “Bantay ASF sa Barangay” and the accompanying hog repopulation program.

He said the DA has modified the protocols in managing, containing, and controlling the ASF. These include the establishment of local veterinary quarantine checkpoints, disease investigation, surveillance, and other measures through its Regional Quick Response Teams and Regional ASF Task Forces in coordination with the LGUs.

“The ASF incidence has significantly gone down from the third quarter of 2020, one of the highest that we’ve had, at 3,060 incidences. It has gone dramatically declined to 935 incidences in the first quarter of 2021,” he reported.

The DA is also providing livelihood assistance under the SURE Aid Program to ASF-affected hog raisers, on top of the DA’s indemnification program, which was raised from P5,000 to P10,000 for every hog culled.

“We have adopted a whole-of-nation approach in the war against ASF through a heightened platform called ‘Bantay ASF sa Barangay’ that aims to protect ASF-free smallholders and commercial swine farms and further improve their biosecurity and proactive surveillance. This program will help assist in repopulating previously infected premises or identify financial support facilities for alternative livelihood projects for ASF-affected farmers,” the Agri chief said.

In the hearing, Senator Franklin Drilon called for a long-term plan to lower the cost of hog production and ensure sufficient pork supply to guarantee food security and stability in our agri sector. He also cited the need for a bigger budget for the agriculture sector.

“We should devote all our resources to lowering the cost of production and having enough production within our borders. And certainly, I would agree that there should be enough funds in the budget to give priority to agriculture. Kailangan natin bigyan ng prayoridad ang agriculture to address food security,” said Drilon.

Senator Cynthia Villar, chair of the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said she filed Senate Bill No. 139 or “An Act to restructure and rationalize the livestock industry in order to strengthen its development, protection and regulatory functions, including the promotion of dairy and native animals, and to provide for a livestock development fund, and for other purposes”.

The livestock, poultry and yellow corn sub-sectors contribute 33% to the country’s gross agricultural value-added, but only received a P2-billion budget allocation. This is significantly smaller to the P6-billion budget of the fisheries sector, which contributes around 19% to total agriculture value-added, secretary Dar said

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