MANILA – On Friday’s Senate hearing for the proposed 2021 budget of the Department of Agriculture (DA), Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri urged the department to help local farmers by limiting imports and penalizing technical smuggling of imported products.
“I’m speaking on behalf of our corn farmers, dito po sa Bukidnon. The importation of feed wheat has drastically brought down their prices. ’Yung (The) dried corn umaabot na ng (it is already) PHP9 per kilo, meron pang (there’s also) PHP8 per kilo, napakababa (That’s too low),” Zubiri said.
“And our farmers here have very good crops, MC 14—moisture content 14—na ’yan (already),” he pointed out. A moisture content of 14 percent is the recommended quality for Grade A corn, per the National Food Authority. “And we have a bumper crop now as well, record numbers of harvest, pero yung presyo, bagsak naman po dahil kalaban nila ang imports sa merkado (but the price, it is cheap because they compete against imports in the market).”
“I am not totally averse to imports,” Zubiri clarified. “But we need to time it so that our local farmers are not competing with imported produce.”
Agriculture Secretary William Dar assured him that the Department has begun working on a strategy to only allow the importation of corn on the off-season of the local harvest.
Zubiri also raised concerns from hog and poultry raisers.
“It has been a difficult time for our hog and poultry raisers. There’s the pandemic, and on top of that, they are also still trying to rise from the damage of the African swine fever (ASF).”
Twenty-five provinces have had to deal with ASF, culling, and disposing of 299,375 hogs as of July.
“On top of ASF and the pandemic, our hog and poultry raisers are also struggling with low prices, because of import dumping and technical smuggling.”
“Ang nangyayari kasi, (What happened was) some traders abuse our policies. For example, our food processors po, kung gagawa po sila ng (if they make) luncheon meat or similar products, pwede po sila mag-angkat ng (they could opt to import) mechanically deboned chicken. However, ang nangyayari (what happened), ’yung mga (these) unscrupulous traders, hinahalo po nila ’yung mga (they mixed the) imported choice cuts, so they can be declared as deboned for processing,” he said. “Itong mga meat cuts na ’to makikita niyo po sa malalaking groceries (These are meat cuts that you see in big groceries).”
“Of course, these smuggled products bypass taxes, tariffs, and duties, which is a problem already,” he said. “And then these illegal imports crowd out our local products. Our poultry and livestock producers are prevented from selling larger volumes to household consumers and food processors.”
Senator Nancy Binay suggested that perhaps the reason behind the persistence of smuggling in the meat industry is that there have been little to no instances of prosecution for smugglers.
“Kailangang ma-sampolan talaga, para matakot na sila (They need to be made an example for them to stop their illegal activities),” Zubiri said.
Zubiri also committed to supporting an additional allocation for DA’s intelligence funds, to allow the department to investigate and catch smugglers of agricultural products.
He also gave his support for additional funding to assist farmers in this time of the pandemic. (PR)