Ping: Ex-BAI chief okayed pork imports from ASF-hit countries

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    THE former director of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) issued import permits for pork products from countries where there were outbreaks of the African swine fever (ASF), Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson said yesterday, suggesting that ASF infections in the country could have been due to the importation of disease-ridden meats.

    Lacson, in an interview with dzBB, said Dr. Ronnie Domingo served as BAI director from October 2017 under former Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol. He was recently transferred by Secretary William Dar as officer-in-charge of the Philippine Carabao Center (PCC).

    Lacson said insider sources said Domingo issued phyto-sanitary import clearances (SPSICs) for pork products from June 2018 up to September 2020 “despite several memorandum from both secretaries to ban pork importation from previously identified countries with ASF like Hungary, Belgium, Germany, China, etc.”

    Lacson said questioned why Domingo was transferred to another post even after he flouted orders of Piñol and Dar.

    “Why was he (Domingo) merely transferred and not investigated and made accountable by the DA?” he asked, adding he would seek Dar’s explanation once the Senate Committee of the Whole convenes its investigation into his allegation that a DA syndicate is expected to gain as much as P6 billion in kickbacks from the proposal to increase the volume of imported pork products with reduced tariff.

    “Without casting doubt on DA Sec. William Dar’s personal integrity, we want to know if he was aware of the situation. That said, while I cannot say at this time if Domingo’s transfer is connected to the issuance of illegal permits, the impact is that we have an ASF problem due to the importation of pork from banned countries,” Lacson said.

    “Considering such violations involving Domingo, papayag na lang ba tayo kung may sangkot, ililipat na lang? (Will we just agree that anyone reportedly involved in illegal acts is transferred without being investigated?) What is clear is that the former BAI director was involved in violations until September 2020,” Lacson said.

    He added: “One weakness of this administration is it’s almost habitual inability to make accountable officials who may have been involved in corruption. This does not speak well of the oft-repeated threat of PRRD (President Duterte) and his supposed strong stand against corruption in government. Lip service cannot solve our country’s problems. Decisive action does.”

    The Senate yesterday approved Lacson’s Senate Resolution No. 685 which called for the convening of the Committee of the Whole to investigate, in aid of legislation, the “tong-pats” or padded costs mess on the importation of meat products.

    “The ‘tongpats’ mess has an impact on foregone revenue and corruption, food security, and health. The Committee of the Whole is best suited for this, instead of having the blue ribbon committee and the committees on agriculture, ways and means, and health handle it separately,” Lacson said. Senate President Vicente Sotto III will be the COW chairman.

    The resolution seeks to “adopt policy solutions contingent on importation which is foreseen to cause billions of revenue losses.”

    “It is high time for the Senate as a whole to take the bull by its horn, face the problem squarely, and adopt policies and measures that will alleviate the sufferings of the local industries that are already reeling from the ASF crisis compounded by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and fundamentally, accord them the support and opportunity as active partners in development and nation-building,” the resolution read.

    Dar, in a statement, said he has created a special committee to look into Lacson’s 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,” Dar said. The committee will be headed by the DA’s legal service chief and will base its inquiry on the initial findings of the DA-MAV secretariat.

    However, Dar said that the allegation of corruption to get an MAV import certificate is remote especially that existing licensees are the same ones every year and were previously accredited by past DA administrations.

    He also said that there are no disparities between the allocations of the current MAV licensees and those given prior to the current DA administration.

    “We would like to emphasize that our objective in increasing the MAV and reducing tariff is to stabilize supply and price of pork,” Dar said. – With Jed Macapagal