African swine fever confounds pandemic woes

Published April 15, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Lost in the transition from Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) to MECQ in the NCR-Plus bubble were twin moves of the national government to address the effects of the African swine fever (ASF) that has greatly affected the supply of pork, a staple item in the Filipino family’s daily menu.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, ASF is a viral disease affecting pigs and wild boar with up to 100 percent case fatality rate.

High ASF incidence has occurred in 37 out 81 provinces in the country covering the entire Luzon, Davao region, and the provinces of North Cotabato, Sarangani and Northern Samar, thereby impairing pork supply.

In response, an executive order imposed a 60-day price ceiling on pork that ended last April 8. With the removal of price ceilings, the suggested retail price (SRP) for imported pork kasim has been set at P270 per kilo and for imported pork liempo at P350 per kilo.

Before Congress went on recess last March 26, the Office of the President wrote to seek approval of the raising of the minimum access volume (MAV) for imported pork products.  Not surprisingly, the Congress failed to act on it within the stipulated 15-day period as it was on break.  The executive action was deemed approved, enabling the national government to pursue the importation of pork.

Forthwith, President Duterte issued Executive Order No. 128 which lowered the current import duties to five percent, from 30 percent for imports with the MAV; and to 15 percent, from the 40 percent for out-quota imports, within the first three months of its one-year effectivity. On the fourth to 12th month, the tariff will be raised to 10 percent and 20 percent, respectively.

The Department of Agriculture has been pushing to raise the MAV for pork importation from the current 54,210 MT to 404,210 MT — a whopping eight-fold increase — to supposedly fill the country’s shortage in pork and reduce the soaring market price of the commodity.

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Chair Rosendo So questioned the latest government moves. “Increasing the MAV to 400 million kilos of pork is equivalent to eight million pig heads, and is way above the current inventory of our backyard hog raisers at 6.9 million heads,” he said, noting that  “the pork shortfall can be imported at the current tariff level and MAV allocation without any additional burden to importers, as the current tariff rates already provide profits of 200 to 250 pesos per kilo for importers.”

House Speaker Lord Allan Velasco joined the opposition to liberalized importation, as this could cause oversupply not only in Luzon, but also in Visayas and Mindanao where he says there is ample pork supply. Senate President Vicente Sotto III led his colleagues in expressing their apprehension that the lowered tariffs would reduce tax revenues and line private pockets.

In light of the objections and concerns expressed by leaders of Congress, the people deserve to be fully informed on the rationale for the questioned decisions.