Sotto presses DA: Name brains behind 'bright idea' to increase pork imports

Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Monday, April 19, pressed the Department of Agriculture (DA) to name the brains behind the government’s move to raise the volume and lower the taxes for imported pork products.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III (MANILA BULLETIN FILE PHOTO)

Sotto, who leads the Senate Committee of the Whole inquiring into the issue, said Agriculture Secretary William Dar should name during the chamber's next hearing the person or the group who pushed for the signing of the executive order (EO) that increased the minimum access volume (MAV) and lowered the tariffs on pork imports.

"I want to know whose bright idea it was to hike the import ceiling and lower import taxes on pork. Sino nag-suggest nito from the DA (Who from the DA suggested this)? Bakit gusto nilang mag-import tayo (Why do they insist on importing) beyond what is required and at the same time babaan ang (lowe the) tariff? Anong logical explanation dito (What's the logical explanation for this)?” Sotto said in his statement.

“Kung hindi man DA ang nagtulak nitong executive order na ito (If the DA did not push for this executive order), then who pushed for it?" he said.

"Gusto kong sagutin nila ang aking tanong: Ang EO ba na ito ay para sa ikauunlad ng Pilipinas? Ito ba ay makakatulong sa mga Pilipino o sa iilan lamang na mga negosyante at politiko (I want them to answer my question: Is this EO intended for the Philippines' growth? Will this help Filipinos or the few businessmen or politicians)?” Sotto said.

Sotto earlier raised the suspicion that the "sudden" increase in pork importation was linked to the national and local elections in 2022.

The Senate chief also expressed his belief that President Duterte was "misinformed" on the need to reduce the pork import duties and increase the MAV.

He and his fellow senators cited government data stating that the Philippines has enough to supply to meet the demand for pork. The DA, on the other hand, had insisted that the country is short of about 400,000 metric tons (MT) of pork to provide for all Filipinos.

Sotto, on Monday, said the EO was contrary to the President's guarantee that the pork and other food products would remain accessible to the people, especially amid the "weak" economic standing amid the worsening COVID-19 situation in the country. 

“I believe that the President intended the EO to assure our people that government is in control and that the welfare of our hog raisers, fishermen and farmers will always be the priority," he said.

"This EO is supposed to be in line with the intentions of the President, but the end product is not. He would not have signed this if he knew that his order will have a negative impact on the hog and agriculture industries. He would not have signed this if no one lobbied for it,” he maintained.

The Senate Committee of the Whole adopted last April 15 the resolution calling on Duterte to withdraw his EO No. 128, which lowers the 30-40 percent pork import duties to five to 20 percent within 12 months.

Senators also appealed to Duterte to reconsider his recommendation to increase the MAV of pork imports from 54,000 MT to 404,000 MT within this year.