DA urged to withdraw pork tariff cuts, higher MAV proposals amid ‘tongpats’ scandal

The Department of Agriculture (DA) has been strongly urged to withdraw its proposal to reduce the tariff on pork imports as well as increase the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) allocation while the investigation on alleged “tongpats” is ongoing.

Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) Chairman Rosendo So said on Thursday that the DA must withdraw its importation-related proposals to correct the perception that the reason for such move is "to allow kickback scheme to keep on happening."

To recall, the DA backed by the economic managers, are pressing on lowering the tariff of pork imports from the current 30 percent to a negligible 5 percent, while also increasing MAV from 54,000 metric tons (MT) to 404, 000 MT of pork.

MAV refers to the volume of a specific agricultural product that is allowed to be imported with a lower tariff as committed by the Philippines to the World Trade Organization (WTO).  

The basis for the DA’s proposals is the shortfall in pork supply as a result of African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreaks, which were pushing meat prices higher.

But Senator Panfilo Lacson exposed the alleged “tongpats”, which refers to the patong or kickback scheme that is allegedly happening at the DA involving pork and chicken imports.

According to Lacson, there would be a commission for DA insiders of P5 per kilogram (/kg) to P7/kg of pork to be imported. This, according to him, had so far given the perpetrators of the scheme as much as P2 billion to P6 billion in graft money.

On Wednesday, the Senate decided to form a Committee of the Whole (COW) to investigate this matter.

Lacson said an investigation involving all the senators is needed because of the magnitude of corruption involved; danger to Philippine food security where the imported pork might contain the dreaded African Swine Flu (ASF); and probable revenue loss on the part of the government.  

He also said that syndicate members would make a killing at P20/kg if the DA is allowed to import 404,000 MT of pork and if the tariff is reduced.

When asked on Thursday if the DA is considering withdrawing its aforementioned proposals, Dar only told Business Bulletin: “the recommendations are already submitted.”

For his part, So said SINAG is set to file a formal appeal to President Rodrigo Duterte, through Senator Cynthia Villar, to reject DA's proposals.

“There has been an overwhelming rejection from the agriculture sector versus the proposals of the DA, the very agency mandated to support us and protect,” So added.

He also said the DA must be reminded that it is not a “Department of Importation and Department vs. Agriculture.”

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) Chairman Emeritus and former Agrarian Reform Secretary Rafael Mariano, said it is better for the lawmakers to already “decisively reject the DA’s recommendation to reduce tariffs and increase the allocation for imported meat.”

“Massive importation will slowly but surely kill the hog industry and severely affect linkages such as the corn and feeds industries," Mariano said.

With regards to the "tongpats" scandal, he said history has shown that import liberalization did not help strengthen local food production and instead wreaked havoc on the lives and livelihoods of Filipino food producers and consumers.

Mariano also said that “tariffs collected from imported agricultural products should be earmarked to support domestic agriculture but unfortunately, unscrupulous importers are benefiting from kickbacks, technical smuggling, and misdeclaration of imports.”

The other day, DA has created a special committee to look into allegations of corruption in the allocation of meat import certificates under the in-quota Minimum Access Volume (MAV) scheme.

“While we stand firm that the issuance of MAV in-quota allocation is above-board and non-discretionary, we have created a special committee to look into allegations made by a lawmaker that there is a syndicate in the DA engaged in a payoff scheme,” said Dar.

The committee is headed by the Department’s legal service chief and will base its inquiry on the initial findings of the DA-MAV Secretariat.