The Senate Committee of the Whole (COW) on Thursday adopted a resolution urging President Rodrigo Duterte to recall “botcha” (double-dead meat) policies on pork importation, which could potentially spell the death of the local hog industry.
As local hog raisers cry for help in fear that imported pork will flood the market soon, the Senate COW adopted the resolution authored by Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, which called on the President to withdraw his Executive Order No. 128.
EO 128 provides for the temporary modification of the rates of import duty for fresh, chilled, or frozen meat of swine, and to recall the recommendation to increase the Minimum Access Volume of pork imports.
The Senate asserted that “the power to fix tariff rates and import quotas falls within the realm of the power of taxation, a power which is within the sole province of the legislature under the Constitution.”
“The setting of the MAV and the power to set the tariff rates is a delegated power, which may be withdrawn or terminated by Congress through a joint resolution,” Drilon stressed.
In the House of Representatives, a party-list lawmaker joined calls for the lifting of EO 128, which lowered tariff rates for pork imports from 40 percent down to five percent, saying such a move will kill the local hog industry.
Rep. Eddie Villanueva of Citizens Battle Against Corruption said: “The lowering of pork imports tariff in this period of pandemic and when our local hog industry is in ‘critical’ if not dying condition due to African swine fever is not only shocking but at the same time unbelievable.”
Villanueva, the Deputy Speaker for Good Governance and Moral Uprightness, said allowing more pork imports to flood the market would kill the livelihood of Filipino hog raisers.
“It is surely never the most apt policy to enforce, it is devoid of any serious concern for our local pork producers,” he added.
As the hearing resumed yesterday, Senate President Vicente Sotto III said they invited new resource persons to get “sensible and clear answers” to the pressing questions raised during the previous COW hearing.
It included asking the basis used by the Department of Agriculture (DA) in coming up with the 400,000 metric tons as the recommended increase in the minimum access volume, on the “real” need to lower pork import tariff and if the move could address pork price problem in the market as well as on food security, and if there were indeed fraudulent activities surrounding the importation of meat involving some officials, among others.
Sen. Cynthia Villar also took to task the National Meat Inspections Service (NMIS) for supposedly passing the responsibility of controlling the selling of pork online to local government units (LGUs).
She said the NMIS should study and come up with means to control online sellers of pork and make sure they are selling ASF-free pork to their clients.
“Why pass the responsibility to the LGUs? Online selling is now popular, so you have to do something about it and control it,” Villar added.
NMIS OIC Executive Dir. Jocelyn Salvador said they are already looking into the online selling of pork and that they appreciate the suggestion of Villar.
Sen. Imee Marcos proposed that the massive online selling like e-commerce of pork should be regulated as “that won’t stop.” She said the DA should coordinate with online selling platforms like Lazada, Shoppee and others.
Marcos said the DA should not simply ignore this matter, stressing that the department has the mandate on disease prevention and control.
“Would they just tolerate these online sellers to spread ASF and let the LGUs go after them?” she asked.
Marcos also urged DA officials to help hog raisers from areas in Mindanao and Visayas that remain free of the ASF, as the department could help them in the shipping cost and biosecurity measures, among others.
She asked DA officials if they were inspecting the arrival of imported pork according to the prescribed requirements under the law, as well as those meat products being sold online.
Drilon said it is Congress which authorizes the President to impose tariff rates, import and export quotas, tonnage and wharfage dues, and other duties or imposts.
“Such authorization can be exercised only within the specified limits set in the law and is further subject to limitations and restrictions which Congress may impose,” the resolution stressed.
“The two policies can potentially spell the demise of our local hog industry, most of them belong to what we call backyard hog raisers,” Drilon said, calling the two policies “botcha” and urged that they be recalled immediately.
“What do we do with ‘botcha’ or double-dead meat, in this case, policies, Mr. President? We recall them,” he said.
The resolution was co-authored by Senate President Vicente Sotto, Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Miguel Zubiri, Senators Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Pia Cayetano, Leila De Lima, Risa Hontiveros, Lito Lapid, Panfilo Lacson, Manny Pacquiao, Francis Pangilinan, Grace Poe, Ramon Revilla Jr., Joel Villanueva, Villar, and Marcos.
The President issued Executive Order No. 128 last April 7 reducing the in-quota tariff rate from 30% to 5% for the first three months, by 10% for the 4th to 12th month, and cutting the out-quota tariff rate from 40% to 15% for the first three months, and 20% for the 4th to 12th month.
Last March 26, when Congress was no longer in session, the President also sent Congress a letter to convey his proposal to increase the minimum access volume or MAV to 350,000 metric tons from 54,210 MT.
The Senate, however, believed the proposal to set the MAV cannot take effect because the recommendation was sent to and received by the Senate when it was no longer in session.
The COW resolution also hit the Agriculture department for its failure to satisfactorily establish through accurate and reliable data that the country will have 388,790 MT of deficit in supply of pork for the year, which necessitates the increase in MAV.
The government said the move would supply the market with enough pork so that prices will not go up as the country’s hog industry is grappling with the African Swine Fever, which hit the sector in 2019.
But Villanueva believed otherwise. He said the market price of pork is currently pegged at around P400 per kilo from P250 per kilo before the pandemic.
Data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reveal that the annual average production of Filipino hog industry is pegged at 2.25 million metric tons, much higher than the Filipino average annual consumption which is only set at 1.85 million metric tons.
“The circumstances which led to the issuance of such order that allows unhampered importation of pork more than our country’s demands are suspicious,” Villanueva said.
“First, it is not established that our local producers do not have the ability to meet local demand. Second, the volume of allowed pork to be imported is without basis and excessively more than the consumption demand of the country, so why import? Lastly, the fictitious nature of leading companies of pork importers seems indicative that this is done in connivance with scrupulous individuals in the government.”