‘Mind-boggling’: Senate grills DA chief over reduced pork import tariffs

Published April 12, 2021, 6:58 PM

by Vanne Elaine Terrazola

Department of Agriculture (DA) Secretary William Dar found himself in the hot seat as the Senate started Monday, April 12, its inquiry on the agency’s proposal to lower the duties for the importation of pork.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar (DAR photo / File photo / MANILA BULLETIN)
Agriculture Secretary William Dar (DAR photo / File photo / MANILA BULLETIN)

At the hearing of the chamber’s Committee of the Whole, Senator Cynthia Villar demanded a direct explanation from Dar for pushing the reduction of tariffs — which is now approved by President Duterte in an executive order — and at the same allow an increased volume of pork imports.

“You are the one who signed and recommended to the President that [reduction] in tariffs. When you signed that you should have understood what you are talking about,” Villar pressed Dar.

“I cannot understand the logic behind that. I don’t want anymore presentation, tuwing maghi-hearing puro presentation (every time we have a hearing you always defer to your presentations),” said the senator, who chairs the Senate agriculture and food committee.

Villar noted data from the Bureau of Customs (BOC) from 2018 to 2020 showing that the highest demand for imported hog meat was only at 120,000 metric tons (MT).

The figure was also the largest in the BOC data for the past 10 years, she said.

Even if the African swine fever (ASF) wiped out 25 percent of the hog population as cited by the industry, the DA should have recommended an increase in importation of only 25 percent, or up to 150,000 MT, Villar pointed out.

The DA wanted the minimum access volume (MAV) for pork imports raised by 350,000 MT, from the current 54,210 MT to 404,210 MT.

President Duterte supported this recommendation, and also the agency’s proposal to reduce tariff rate for in-quota and out-quota pork importation to 5 percent and 15 percent, respectively.

“Meron bang demand na umi-increase a year ng four times (Has there been a demand rate that increase by four times within a year)? 400 percent in a year? Sasabihin mo (You will ask for) 400,000 [MT], that’s out of range,” Villar asked.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III was also puzzled how the DA was able to convince Duterte to approve the proposals.

“It’s mind-boggling unless we’re being paranoid right now,” Sotto said.

“Why are you lowering the tariff? Gusto niyong dagdagan ‘yong importation? Sige dagdagan natin, dahil kukulangin tayo. Bakit binababa niyo ‘yong tariff (You want to increase the importation? Okay, go ahead, if we have a shortage. But why do you need to lower the tariff)?” he also stressed.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon also shared the same view, noting the huge cut in the tariff rate.

“The reason we’re asking this question is that we’re concerned we cannot get the proper explanation how this policy decision was arrived at,” he said.

“Sabihin na nating kailangan nating mag-import, kailangan ba nating ibaba ‘yong tariff. At ang laki ng binaba (Let’s say we really need to import pork, do we have to lower the tariff? And the reduction is too high),” Drilon asked.

Responding to the senators, Dar insisted that that country’s current pork supply is not enough to meet the Filipinos’ demand, with the local production standing at 1.2 million MT against the demand of 1.6 million MT.

Senator Joel Villanueva, meanwhile, said that importation should not be the DA’s solution to the food crisis brought about by the ASF. 

“ASF is a global issue, yes, but its impact on our food security is a local problem which must have a local solution,” he said. “Our salvation cannot be found in foreign farms.”

The Senate Committee of the Whole will resume its hearing on the issue Thursday, April 15.