DA, Neda bloated pork data, hog raisers tell Senate | Inquirer News
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DA, Neda bloated pork data, hog raisers tell Senate

Livestock industry leaders on Thursday blasted the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) for allegedly using flawed data to justify the importation of frozen pork which could flood the market to the detriment of local producers struggling against the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak.

Rosendo So of Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) and Chester Warren Tan of National Federation of Hog Farmers Inc. told senators at a hearing that the figures used by the DA and Neda were bloated compared to industry estimates and reports from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).

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Both the DA and Neda recommended to President Duterte to reduce the tariffs on imported pork to a low of 5 percent from 40 percent, and raise the ceiling for pork imports with lower tariffs—known as the minimum access volume (MAV)—to 404,210 metric tons from 54,000 MT.

On April 7, Duterte signed Executive Order No. 128 which would temporarily reduce the tariffs on imported pork for the next 12 months. He earlier urged Congress separately to raise the MAV.

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Senators are crafting a joint congressional resolution to revoke the EO amid concerns that it would kill the local hog industry with imported pork.

Tan described the ASF outbreak as an “atomic bomb” that hit the livestock sector, and that the tariff and MAV proposals would be another bomb that they could no longer survive.

Neda had projected that the country’s pork shortfall would be over 300,000 MT based on a per capita consumption of 15 kilograms.

Claim disputed

But Tan told the hearing called by the Senate committee of the whole that the country’s per capita consumption already dipped to 10 kilos following the temporary closures of food establishments and the restrictions on tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said the deficit was only close to 150 million kilos, not 440 million kilos. Contrary to the DA’s claims, there is also no pork shortage in Visayas and Mindanao, Tan said.

“Their figures are overstated,” he said. “The DA clearly knows that the shortage only happens in Metro Manila.”

So also discredited claims that the estimated volume of imported pork would only be equivalent to 70 percent of the country’s stocks. He noted that based on PSA data, it would be equivalent to 8 million heads, more than the current stocks of local backyard hog raisers.

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Avoiding future blame

Senators were optimistic about the approval of a joint resolution revoking EO 128, which would spare Congress of future blame should the directive cause more problems for the country’s food supply.

“[There is] No harm in trying. At least we [in the Senate] did our part,” said Senate President Vicente Sotto III.

Senators pushing the joint resolution are invoking provisions of Republic Act No. 10863, or the Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, which gives Congress the power to withdraw or revoke an executive directive modifying tariff duties through a joint resolution.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon said he was already drafting a proposed “bipartisan” resolution for filing next week.

Sen. Ralph Recto hoped that the President would agree to withdraw EO 128.

“We should support our local hog industry. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos depend on it, including family members. The multiplier effect on the economy is much greater than just importing hogs,” he said.

In a PowerPoint presentation, Sinag asked Karl Kendrick Chua, the acting socioeconomic secretary and director general of Neda, whether the bloated computations for the tariffs and the import volumes were the so-called tongpats, or kickbacks, for agriculture officials, which Sen. Panfilo Lacson had alleged.

Chua did not respond.

Not consulted

Tan told the senators that representatives of the hog raisers, including one from Mindanao, were excluded from the consultations on the import ceilings.

He said the membership of his group and Sinag’s to the MAV was revoked “without notice.”

Instead of importing, agricultural groups called on the DA to fast-track the construction of the first border control facilities at the country’s major ports to prevent another animal disease outbreak in the country.

According to the DA, the first ASF outbreak was caused by tainted smuggled meat from China.

Stamping out ASF and preventing its further spread should be the first priority of the agency, they said.

“We ask the DA to appease our minds as stakeholders—in their recommendation to import, can they guarantee that there will be no new outbreaks of ASF to enter the land? If the answer is zero, we will not argue anymore. If there is little risk, even at 1 percent, there is a problem,” Tan said.

Lacson said he would continue to dig into the “tongpats” allegations, saying it was suspicious that the DA claimed the MAV allocation was done through a raffle but “only four importers keep winning the raffles yearly.”

“When Secretary Dar denied that corruption is happening, instead of ordering an investigation,” he said, “It is either he is being taken for a ride, or he is benefitting from it, or he just does not want to ruffle feathers in the department. Or it could be pressure from outside of the DA.”

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TAGS: DA, Hog, NEDA, Pork, Sinag
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