Heads must roll at DA once ‘tongpats’ charge in pork imports is proven — agri groups
MANILA, Philippines — Heads must roll at the Department of Agriculture (DA) once proven that a kickback scheme in pork importation is behind the agency’s push for lower pork tariff rates and higher import volumes, industry groups said.
The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) issued on Tuesday scathing remarks urging both chambers of Congress to look into Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s allegation of a racket within the DA that would bring in as much as P6 billion in “tongpats” or kickbacks once the twin proposals are approved by President Duterte.
The DA is pushing to slash pork tariffs to as low as 5 percent from a high of 40 percent, while it wants the minimum access volume (MAV) to be raised by over 600 percent to 404,000 metric tons (MT) from 54,000 MT.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar said importation “is the agency’s last resort” to tame pork prices in the market and augment shortfall in pork supply, but lawmakers and industry leaders said the proposals would “kill” the livestock, poultry, and corn sectors.
He added that the agency is open to any investigation.
“Today, we can finally understand why it is very difficult for the DA to withdraw its position of increasing the MAV and lowering tariffs despite the overwhelming opposition of the local agriculture sector and now, of the Philippine Senate,” Sinag said.
“Both consumers and producers will be the losers [once the proposals are approved], while only a handful of importers and those getting ‘tongpats’ will benefit from tariff reduction and MAV expansion,” it added.
KMP said the kickback scheme would allow importers and corrupt officials “to make a killing at the expense of the domestic hog industry.”
“We cannot allow this institutionalized corruption. Heads will roll at the DA for allowing importation syndicates and technical smugglers to have their heyday while local hog raisers are deep in bankruptcy and seeking for aid,” it added.
KMP chairman emeritus and Anakpawis chair Rafael Mariano noted that the DA “is notorious for corrupt practices,” pertaining to the infamous fertilizer scam during the term of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“It is unacceptable for the DA to be in cahoots with unscrupulous importers and traders,” he said.
Lacson, during the plenary session on Monday evening, also urged the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission to conduct a motu proprio investigation of the scheme, stressing that the government cannot allow that certain individuals are “laughing all the way to the bank while local farmers are suffering.”
The senator disclosed that he has received information from “highly placed officials” that there are DA officials raking in kickbacks of P5 to P7 per kilogram of pork imported.
Once the proposals are approved, kickbacks could double to P10 to P15 per kilo, he added.
In a press briefing with the Coldchain Association of the Philippines, newly-appointed Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) director Rieldrin Morales denied any knowledge of Lacson’s allegations.
“Personally and officially, I have no knowledge of that and I have no experience of that. The people who are actually doing the business will be in the best position to comment on what the good senator has been saying,” he said.
Inquirer also reached out to Ronnie Domingo, previous BAI chief. He said that while BAI is in charge of approving import orders, its responsibility is mainly to check whether the countries from where the imports would be sourced are free of animal diseases that may penetrate the local industry.
Jesus Cham, president of the Meat Importers and Traders Association, also denied any irregularities with the MAV system.
“There have never been kickbacks from the regular MAV. It was established in 1996 and has run for 25 years without controversies. The players know and respect the rules,” he said.
He added that the “MAV plus” being pushed by Dar “is transparent thus far,” and “is comprised of sectoral representatives from rice, corn, sugar, pork, poultry, and processing.
The DA, for its part, assured in a statement that the issuance of MAV licenses “is non-discretionary” on the part of the team facilitating it.
It added that MAV allocations and licenses are strictly non-transferrable.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.