By Ernie Reyes
MANILA — The Senate on Wednesday adopted a resolution calling for the constitution of the Committee of the Whole to conduct an inquiry into the food security crisis brought about by the severe outbreak of the African swine fever as well as the alleged “tong-pats” or padded costs per kilogram of imported pork.
In adopting Senate Resolution No. (SRN) 685 introduced and sponsored by Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, the Senate constituted the Committee of the Whole in Food Security Crisis and the African Swine Fever (ASF) with Senate President Vicente C. Sotto III as chairman.
SRN 685 also seeks the adoption of policy solutions on importation which is foreseen to cause billions of revenue losses and further perpetuate the unabated corruption in the form of “tong-pats” and technical smuggling of poultry and pork products.
In sponsoring the measure, Sen. Lacson said the inquiry will be about finding out if there is truth to information that there is a padded cost of P5 to P7 per kilogram of pork that would go to the pockets of unscrupulous officials.
Lacson also said he deemed it wise to request that the resolution be referred to the Committee of the Whole because it involves issues that go beyond the jurisdiction of the Committee of Agriculture, Food and Agrarian Reform, such as corruption, health, and foregone revenues.
“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 stated.
According to the resolution, the ASF problem began as early as 2018 when certain officials of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) illegally permitted the entry of pork meat and other pork products from banned countries like Hungary, Belgium, Germany and China into the Philippines in violation of existing Memorandum Orders issued by the Department of Agriculture banning the importation of said agricultural products.
Lacson said the inquiry will also focus on the reasons that caused the transfer of former BAI Director Ronnie Domingo to the Philippine Carabao Center in Nueva Ecija.
SRN 685 also takes into account the call of the Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines (AGAP) Partylist, representing 80,000 backyard hog raisers, for the Senate to investigate the proposed expansion of the minimum access volume (MAV) from 54,000 metric tons (MT) to 400,000 MT and the imposition of a reduced tariff from 30 percent to five percent for in-quota importation and 40 percent to 15 percent for out-quota importation of pork products.
The group is emphasizing that the MAV of 400,000 MT will cause oversupply not only in Luzon but in Visayas and Mindanao as well, where there is ample supply of pork.
“We received reports that on top of this burden to our local hog industry, unscrupulous individuals have found a way to illegally profit from this new scheme through the imposition of “tong-pats” amounting to P5.00 to P7.00 per kilo of imported pork at present rate which could significantly increase upon the approval of the proposed tariff rate reduction from 30 percent to 5 percent for in-quota and 40 percent to 15 percent out-quota and the MAV allocation is increased under this proposition,” the resolution stated.
AGAP also asserted that the foregone tariff revenue of P13.95 billion is enough to finance the indemnification of all ASF infected hogs as the remaining hog population is 8.5 million.
It also recommended to allocate P8.5 billion (10 percent of 8.5 million hogs at P10,000 per head) to finance indemnification of all ASF infected hogs to backyard and commercial raisers.
“So we want to find out what caused the transfer, and if there is really truth to the report that I received that P5.00 to P7.00 padded cost per kilogram of pork. And that would translate if the volume is increased to 400 million kilos and the so-called tong-pats will double up, easily that would translate to P6 billion,” Lacson said. (AI/MTVN)