It may have taken some time since the alleged kickback scheme in pork importation was exposed, but Agriculture Secretary William Dar is more certain now that the Department of Agriculture (DA) has nothing to do with this so-called tongpats scandal.
During a recent senate hearing, Dar denied any involvement in the alleged “tongpats” or price-padding scheme and other irregularities on pork importation.
This was four weeks since Senator Panfilo Lacson exposed in public that some DA officials have long been involved in a patong or kickback scheme involving pork imports.
Lacson, in his exposé, said DA insiders, in exchange for granting import permits, would receive a commission of P5 to P7 for each kilo of pork to be imported, yielding them as much as P6 billion in graft money.
This alarmed all the senators and decided to form themselves into a Committee of the Whole (COW) to investigate the matter.
Lacson said an investigation involving all the senators is needed because of the magnitude of corruption involved.
He also said at the time that syndicate members would make a killing of P20/kg if the DA is allowed to import 404,000 MT of pork under the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) and if the import tariff is reduced.
When this came out, the DA only said that it will investigate the matter, and it was only now that Dar came out to say that “the present DA leadership categorically denies any involvement if such scheme indeed exists”.
“On my personal and official capacity as secretary of the DA, the undersigned is one with President Rodrigo Roa Duterte in the strict observance of good governance and no corruption in government, and will never allow any corrupt practice under his stead and leadership,” Dar further said.
Dar also said that allocating the MAV to qualified importers or licensees adheres to strict regulations and guidelines, ensuring a transparent and non-discretionary systematic distribution procedure.
To recall, the Philippines imports agricultural commodities, including pork and other pork products, under the MAV scheme, which is part of the country’s commitment under the World Trade Organization (WTO) to facilitate trade among WTO member-countries.
The country is allowed to import 54,000 metric tons (MT) of pork yearly under the MAV with an in-quota tariff of 30 percent.
Beyond said volume or out-quota, pork imports are levied with a higher tariff of 40 percent.
“The [MAV] allocation is done through raffle. The initial MAV allotment this year has long been set and fixed. Yearly or mid-year allocation may be conducted depending on the pooled amount of allocations that were either surrendered or automatically deducted as penalty for regular licensees that failed to meet the 70 percent utilization requirement within the allowable period of time,” he said.
The DA recently got the support of President Rodrigo Duterte about its proposal to triple the MAV allocation for this year up to 400,000 MT, which still needs Congress approval.
As for the agency’s proposal to temporarily reduce the import tariff rate for pork, Duterte approved this as well through the issuance of an executive order.
These two import-related actions are part of the government efforts to address the country’s declining hog supply, which was brought down by the dreaded animal disease African Swine Fever (ASF).
So far, the country’s hog population has already dwindled by more than three million heads, from 12.7 million in January 2020 to 9.7 million in January 2021, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA).
Hence for the entire 2021, the DA. through its national livestock program, projected that the country would have a supply deficit of 388,563 MT of pork. This was based on a supply estimate of 1.23 million MT against a total demand of 1.62 million MT.
Dar told the senators that increasing pork imports under the in-quota MAV is “but a temporary measure to be implemented for only one year, under strict monitoring and supervision by the inter-agency MAV Management Committee.”