Lawmakers are now urging President Rodrigo Duterte to put the entire country under a state of emergency due to the prevalence of African Swine Fever (ASF), which has been consistently pushing pork prices higher to the detriment of meat-loving Filipinos.
Such a call was made after industry leaders claimed that measures being implemented and proposed by the Department of Agriculture (DA) – such as the implementation of a price ceiling and the plan to bring down tariff on imported pork – to arrest the rising cost of pork are either not working or going to be detrimental to local hog industry.
Senator Francis Pangilinan said during a senate hearing on Tuesday that there is a need for the declaration of a state of emergency in Luzon against ASF so that the government can allocate more public funds to solve the problem.
Later on, he amended the call and proposed to include Visayas and Mindanao in the declaration of a state of emergency, adhering to the recommendation of Chester Warren Tan of the National Federation of Hog Farmers Inc.
ASF, a fatal animal disease among swine, was first detected in the Philippines in 2019 and had since resulted in billions of losses in the livestock industry.
The DA claimed that the dreaded virus only resulted in the death and culling of more than 500,000 hogs nationwide so far, but industry groups think it’s way more than that.
Likewise, the prevalence of ASF also prompted a lot of hog raisers to shift into other livelihoods, worsening the country’s supply problem on hogs, which has been pushing pork prices higher.
As of Monday, the prevailing price of pork kasim at select markets in Metro Manila stood at P320 per kilogram (/kg), while pork liempo costs P340/kg, based on the DA’s price monitoring report.
Such prices are now all beyond the price ceiling mandated under Executive Order (EO) 124, which was
signed by President Rodrigo Duterte in January and took effect early last month.
Based on this EO, a kilo of pork kasim should only be sold for P270/kg, while pork liempo has a price cap of P300/kg.
Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines, Inc. (AGAP) President Nicanor Briones said such a price cap is already basically useless now because no one can afford to follow it.
“The price of pork now is P330 to P380/kg. That price is the right price,” Briones said during the senate hearing.
Tan also said that because of the low price ceiling, a lot of hog raisers from Visayas and Mindanao, which are not yet as badly hit by ASF as Luzon, already refused to sell and ship their hogs here.
Reacting to Pangilinan’s proposal, which was backed by other senators, Agriculture Undersecretary Ariel Cayanan said the DA “appreciates this” and will follow through.
RCEF-like fund for livestock
Meanwhile, Senator Cynthia Villar, who chairs the Senate committee on agriculture and food, said she will write a bill that will propose to set up a fund like a Rice Competitiveness Enhancement Fund (RCEF) for the livestock industry.
As part of the Rice Tariffication Law, RCEF is where the tariff from rice imports should go. It will then be utilized to provide support to farmers under four components including the provision of high-yielding rice seed, accessible loan and credit, training and extension, and mechanization.
“We will project the tariff income [from livestock] then we will allocate that to uses which you [the hog industry] think are important and one of them is disease control and maybe the construction of border control in the Philippines to control the entry of diseases,” Villar said.
“Of course, we will formalize the provision of insurance subsidy under the fund as well as re-population, breeder farms, marketing, and education to our farmers,” she added.
Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Chairperson Rosendo So has claimed that it was his group that proposed this to the senate.
“We are talking straight to Senate about this,” So said, adding that sans the reduction on pork import tariff and the increase of its minimum access volume (MAV), the fund that Villar was talking about could potentially have more than P3 billion a year.
In 2020 alone, importers paid a tariff of P3.88 billion for pork imports in and out of quota.
To recall, there are now two proposals from DA that are related to pork imports.
First, the DA wants to increase the MAV allocation on pork to 404,210 metric tons (MT) from the current 54,000 MT.
MAV refers to the volume of a specific agricultural product that is allowed to be imported with a lower tariff as committed by the Philippines to the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The DA also has a pending petition from the Tariff Commission (TC) for temporary tariff reduction on
pork for a period of 12 months.
DA particularly wants pork imports under MAV to be slapped with lower tariff from the current 30 percent up to 5 percent in the first six months of the implementation of the proposal, and up to 10 percent in the succeeding six months.
For pork imports outside MAV, the recommendation is for the tariff to be reduced from the current 40 percent to 15 percent in the first six months and 20 percent in the next six months of the implementation of the temporary tariff reduction.
Briones is against both proposals because he believes this will further damage the local hog industry.
“DA should focus on how to address ASF,” Briones said. “Why don’t they just use the tariff being collected from pork imports to help farmers affected by these outbreaks?”