Senators on Wednesday said back-channel talks were underway with the Palace over their call for President Rodrigo Duterte to recall an executive order that doubled pork imports and lowered their tariff.
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon acknowledged there were talks but declined to say if he believed the government’s economic team led by Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez would be open to a compromise.
The question, he said, should be directed at the economic managers who recommended to the President EO 128, which increased the minimum access volume (MAV) for pork imports that local hog raisers insist will kill the industry.
“As a matter of fact, as we speak, some back channeling efforts are underway to work on that compromise,” Drilon said.
Senator Panfilo Lacson said he hoped some middle ground could be found.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III acknowledged he was in talks with Dominguez.
Meanwhile. Senator Grace Poe challenged the Department of Agriculture (DA) to regain the trust of hog raisers by working together towards long-term instead of band-aid solutions.
“There’s much trust that was lost between the DA and its stakeholders that really needs to be rebuilt. I think this is a fundamental factor that will enable the success of any future endeavor,” Poe said.
Stakeholders from the local hog farming sector have raised concerns over the MAV that was raised to 350,000 metric tons (MT) from 54,210 MT without proper consultation since they were kicked out of the MAV advisory council meeting in February.
Executive Order No.128 that was signed earlier also lowers pork tariffs from 30 percent to a mere five percent that would incur a P13.68-billion loss in government revenues.
Poe described the DA and the Bureau of Customs’ inspection of meat at the borders as “porous,” which resulted in a devastating 3 million pigs lost to the African swine fever (ASF).
Senator Joel Villanueva said government assistance to devastated local pig farms must arrive ahead of pork imports, and warned agriculture officials that “farmers will feel betrayed if imports will flood the market, while aid to them will come in trickles.”
He noted that the DA is two years delayed in rolling out a “clear and comprehensive strategy in helping the local hog industry recover from the ASF outbreak.”
“DA has not yet presented a grand plan that would serve as a recovery road map to guide and inspire our local hog farmers,” he said. “It seems there is no viable plan of action in place to revive our local hog industry.”
More than a month since the Senate passed a resolution urging the declaration of a state of calamity due to ASF, government officials said the document has been cleared for approval by the President.
The Senate Committee of the Whole convened for the third time on Tuesday to discuss the ASF outbreak.
“Our concern precisely is that the bureaucracy… can act faster because the Senate committee on agriculture already endorsed this March 9, and it’s already April 17. If it’s a state of calamity declaration, one would like to think we should act swiftly,” Senator Francis Pangilinan said.