Agri chief sued by farmers

Published April 26, 2021, 6:00 AM

by Madelaine B. Miraflor

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Chair Rosendo So has filed a formal complaint before the Office of the Ombudsman against Agriculture Secretary William Dar for allegedly violating the Food Safety Act, among other laws. 

Over the weekend, members of the media obtained a copy of the formal complaint, which accuses Dar of violating Food Safety Act, Revised Administrative Code of the Philippines, the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees, and Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act.

Dar was asked to comment on the complaint, but he has not yet issued a response as of press time but Department of Agriculture Spokesperson Noel Reyes said “this is an old issue.”

“The 1st ACEA [Agricultural Commodity Examination Area] will be constructed soon at MICT [Manila International Container Terminal],” Reyes told Business Bulletin. 

ACEA is a First Border Inspection Facility that the DA is planning to build in partnership with Philippine Ports Authority (PPA). It will cost around P500 million.

 The DA announced in late 2019 the plan to build several ACEA across the country. However,  construction for the first ACEA is yet to start. 

SINAG, an umbrella group of 32 farmers and agriculture organizations in the country, builds its case from what it alleged as DA’s violation of ‘Quarantine First Policy’ of the Republic Act (RA) 10611 or the Food Safety Act of 2013.

 Under this law, all imported foods shall undergo cargo inspection and clearance procedures by the DA and the Department of Health (DOH) at the first port of entry to determine compliance with national regulations.

The implementation of this rule is important in preventing the entry of imported agricultural products that may be contaminated with animal diseases like African Swine Fever (ASF).  

“Respondent’s utter disregard for food safety standards is an affront to the principle that public office is a public trust. They should be held liable for their actions which have greatly prejudiced the Filipino people,” stated the complaint, which was received by the Office of the Ombudsman on Friday, April 23.

 SINAG further said that “Even after eight long years since the enactment of the Food Safety Act up to present, the DA has been examining imported food products after they are transferred from the first port of entry, contrary to the ‘Quarantine First Policy’.”

SINAG described the insufficient quarantine controls at the first port of entry for imported meat products. “Quarantine officers merely open shipping containers for a quick look and immediately close them to avoid spoilage or contamination. The containers are then brought to and examined at accredited warehouses,” the group said.

  In a separate statement, So said the case was filed “on behalf of the millions of Filipino farmers, specifically the 500,000 backyard hog raisers and others in their thousands that rely on the hog industry”.

  “Since assuming office in 2019, we have repeatedly asked Dar to fully implement the first border inspection,” So said.

“Instead of heeding the request of the local agriculture sector, ASD [Agriculture Secretary William Dar] moved to increase the MAV [minimum access volume] allocation for pork and reduce pork tariff,” he added.

 So said Dar’s negligence of the ‘Quarantine First Policy” is causing the spread of animal diseases in the country like ASF, bird flu, foot and mouth disease, salmonella, weevil, among others.

SINAG first threatened to file a case against Dar in October last year for failing to implement the government’s quarantine first policy.