Senate President Vicente Sotto III questioned on Friday, April 16, the timing of the government’s decision to import more pork into the country, saying the move may be linked to the 2022 national and local elections.
During an interview over radio DZBB, Sotto traced back the emergence of the African swine fever (ASF) in 2018, pointing out that the Department of Agriculture (DA) should long have imposed policies to prevent or mitigate its impacts.
The viral disease was first detected in the Philippines in July, 2019, with new cases recently confirmed in the country.
“Nakapagtataka, 2018 pa ‘yon, di ba? Bakit ngayon, kung kailan mag-eeleksyon, biglang kailangan itaas ‘yong minimum access volume na napakataas, at ibababa ang taripa, ang tax (It is puzzling, since it started in 2018, right? Why did they see the need to substantially increase the MAV and lower the tariffs, the tax, suddenly when there is an upcoming election)?” Sotto said.
“May gustong kumita, eh. Hindi ba obvious (Someone wants to earn from this. Isn’t it obvious)?” he claimed.
Sotto said that if there is indeed a problem in pork supply — which senators do not believe — he said the DA need not look in other countries since there is an “oversupply” of pork in the Visayas and Mindanao.
“At saka ang pinaguusapan nila dito, isang taon lang, pati ‘yong Executive Order isang taon lang. Hindi ba kami magdududa noon (And they are talking of increasing the MAV for only a year, even the executive order is valid for only one year. Can you blame us for having doubts)?”
“Ang sama ng timing (The timing is really off),” he said.
Sotto surmised that importers could be behind the move: “Baka kakailanganin nila ‘pag dating ng election (They might need the money for the elections),” he said.
Senators have argued that the government no longer needs to import pork as they cited data from the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC) showing that the country produces enough pork, even exceeding the demand of consumers.
EO No. 128, signed by President Duterte last April 7, lowers the tariff on pork to at least five percent from the current 30-percent duty for in-quota imports, and 15 percent, from 40 percent, for out-quota imports.
Duterte also recommended the increase in minimum access volume (MAV) by 350,000 metric tons (MT) from 54,000 MT, following the DA’s estimate that the country needs 404,000 MT to meet the demand for pork.
On Thursday, April 15, the Senate Committee of the Whole adopted the resolution urging President Duterte to withdraw his order reducing pork imports tariffs, saying this and the huge increase in the MAV can cause the demise of the local hog industry and cost the government billions in foregone revenue”.