Senate to probe ‘tongpats’ racket, ‘food security crisis’ triggered by ASF
MANILA, Philippines — The Senate on Wednesday constituted itself into the Committee of the Whole to investigate the food security crisis stemming from the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak and the alleged “tongpats” scheme in the importation of pork.
The Senate decided to launch the Committee of the Whole investigation, having adopted Resolution No. 685 filed by Senator Panfilo Lacson.
The resolution sought to investigate the “tongpats” scheme as well as technical smuggling of poultry and pork products, which were feared to “further perpetrate unabated corruption” and “ultimately lead to the demise of the local industry and adverse public health effects if appropriate measures [are not] adopted.”
According to the resolution, the inquiry will also look into the “adoption of policy solutions contingent on importation which is foreseen to cause billions of revenue losses.”
“It is high time for the Senate as a whole to take the bull by its horn, face the problem squarely, and adopt policies and measures that will alleviate the sufferings of the local industries that are already reeling from the ASF crisis compounded by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and fundamentally, accord them the support and opportunity as active partners in development and nation-building,” the resolution read.
Lacson, who previously exposed the “tongpats” scheme, claimed that kickbacks from the racket could amount to P6 billion per year if President Rodrigo Duterte approves the Department of Agriculture’s (DA) proposal to lower tariffs and increase import allocation on such goods.
If approved, the DA plan would reduce pork tariffs to as low as 5 to 15 percent over the next six months and 10 to 20 percent over the next six months, from in-quota and out-of-quota rates of 30 to 40 percent.
It would also raise pork imports under the minimum access volume (MAV) to 404,210 metric tons (MT) from 54,000 MT. Imports are subject to lower tariffs under MAV.
Earlier, the Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines (AGAP) party list, which represents 80,000 backyard hog raisers, cautioned that if the DA’s plan is accepted, the government could lose P13.95 billion.
According to Lacson, he sought a Committee of the Whole investigation on the matter since the issues involved “go beyond” the Senate agriculture committee’s jurisdiction.
“It involves possible foregone revenues and that should be addressed by the Committee of the Ways and Means and then there’s the issue of corruption that should be addressed by the blue ribbon committee and then the issue of health that should be Committee of Health,” he said.
“[This] is why I deemed it wise to request the body to have it referred to the committee of the whole because four committees [separately] handling several issues might contribute to some confusion,” he added.
Lacson said the investigation would also touch on the transfer of former Bureau of Animal Industry Director Ronnie Domingo to the Philippine Carabao Center in late January despite allegedly granting permits to import pork from banned countries due to the ASF.
“Without casting doubt on DA Sec. William Dar’s personal integrity, we want to know if he was aware of the situation,” the senator said in a separate statement.
“That said, while I cannot say at this time if Domingo’s transfer is connected to the issuance of illegal permits, the impact is that we have an ASF problem due to the importation of pork from banned countries,” he added.
Following the resolution’s adoption, Senate President Vicente Sotto III constituted the chamber into the Committee of the Whole.
As chairperson of the committee, Sotto will lead the inquiry.
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