Ping wants probe on ‘tong-pats’ on imported pork

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    SEN. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson yesterday proposed the convening of the Senate into a Committee of the Whole to look into what he alleged was the existence of a supposed syndicate within the Department of Agriculture (DA) which earns billions of pesos from “tong-pats” or padded costs on imported pork products.

    Lacson, during his interpellation on Senate Resolution No. 676 which the chamber adopted on Monday and again during an interview yesterday, cited reports of individuals allegedly imposing tong-pats of P5 to P7 per kilo on imported pork.

    The padded cost, he said, will increase if the tariffs on imported pork products are reduced and the minimum access volume (MAV) allocation is increased.

    “I received this disturbing information from a highly placed source who has knowledge of the modus operandi within the agency that at present, rates of a 30-percent tariff on in-quota hog importation and 40 percent for off-quota importation, there is an existing agreement of an ‘SOP’ of P5 to P7 per kilo,” Lacson said.

    “We should unmask who is/are behind this scheme no matter how powerful and influential he may be with this administration. I want to see even a whiff of enthusiasm from the President to order the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission and other concerned agencies to investigate, not to mention heed the call of the Senate, to disapprove the DA’s recommendation to reduce the tariff and increase the volume of pork importation. Let’s see,” he also said.

    He said the anomaly, if true, is a “triple whammy” that could kill the local hog industry, raise public health concerns and lead to foregone revenues for the government.

    Lacson said he has already talked with Senate President Vicente Sotto III so the Senate can conduct its own investigation via the Committee of the Whole.

    He said he has started gathering documentary evidence related to his allegation, and has so far received several documents from the Bureau of Customs and the DA. “Still, we need more data to get to the bottom of the anomaly,” he added.

    He said the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission can likewise conduct a motu proprio investigation into the setup, as he noted that “we are dealing with public money and possibly foregone revenues.”

    “Covid capitalism vs Covid humanitarianism. In theory, the choice is clear. Unscrupulous people have another choice: Covid corruption. On their day of reckoning, they will burn in hell,” Lacson said.

    Lacson said he would like to personally question Agriculture Secretary William Dar about the issue, saying Dar should know or should have at least heard of the scheme, especially since the Minimum Access Volume Management Committee is under his office,

    The MAVMC is headed by Acting Undersecretary William Medrano and is composed of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) and the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS).

    Aside from the padded costs, Lacson also wants the Senate to check the supposed payment of “SOPs” in the allocation of quota to favored importers and the issuance of the Phyto-Sanitary Import Clearance (PSIC).

    “These practices have been going on for several years now. For example, between June and October 2018, imported pork from banned countries due to the ASF like Belgium, Hungary, Germany and China flooded the local market, which prompted the issuance of a memorandum order by then DA Secretary Emmanuel Piñol,” Lacson said.

    He cited a letter from the Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines (AGAP) party-list group to Sotto on behalf of the 80,000 backyard hog raisers, expressing concern that the DA’s proposed increase in pork meat importation by expanding the MAV while imposing a reduced tariff will kill the local industry.

    In the letter signed by its president Nicanor Briones, AGAP said that while it is not against pork importation, 400,000 MT is too much and may cause an oversupply nationwide, while cutting tariff rates may cost the government some P13.95 billion in revenues, and thus “unnecessary and unacceptable.”

    Concerned poultry integrators composed of major producers and suppliers of poultry also appealed to Dar to calibrate the importation of finished chicken products and stay within the MAV limit of 23.4 million kilos per year.

    They requested that the DA disallow the continued importation of chicken finished products especially “with diseases that have mostly come from abroad,” adding historical data show increased importation may destroy the local poultry industry.

    In SRN 676, which urges President Duterte to declare a state of national calamity due to the severe impact of the African swine fever (ASF) on the local hog industry.

    The measure also urges the President to reject the proposed reduction of tariff rates and the increase in the minimum access volume (MAV) of imported pork products.

    Under the resolution, senators agreed that “a declaration of a state of calamity throughout the Philippines due to ASF will, among others, afford the Department of Agriculture, as well as local government units and other concerned agencies, ample latitude to utilize appropriate funds, including the Quick Response Fund, in their disaster preparedness and response efforts to address the ASF outbreak.”

    The resolution also warned that “increasing the MAV and decreasing tariff, proposed ironically by the DA itself, would further derail the recovery of the hog industry, if not kill the local industry altogether.”

    Lacson was among the co-authors of the resolution, which was backed by Sotto, Senate president pro tempore Ralph Recto, majority leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, minority leader Franklin Drilon, Cynthia Villar, Francis Pangilinan, Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Pia Cayetano, Richard Gordon, Leila de Lima, Ronald dela Rosa, Manuel Lapid, Imee Marcos, Ramon Revilla Jr., Emmanuel Pacquiao, Grace Poe, Francis Tolentino, and Joel Villanueva.
    The resolution noted imported pork products within the current MAV ceiling of 54,000 metric tons are charged with 30-percent tariff while identical products beyond the MAV quota pay a 40-percent tariff.

    It added the DA, seeking to address increasing prices of pork and an estimated supply deficit of 388,491 MT, has proposed to increase the MAV from 54,000 MT to 404,000 MT. It also sought to lower the quota tariff rate by as much as 83 percent, from 30 percent to 5 percent if within quota; and from 40 percent to 15 percent if beyond the quota.

    Lacson said that if the tariff for importations is brought down and the MAV is increased, the syndicate can jack up its tong-pats from the current P5-7 to P10-15 per kilo – easily earning P4 to 6 billion from the 400,000 metric tons or 400 million kilograms.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the Executive branch is still studying whether or not to allow the importation of pork products though the regular importation schemes or using the Minimum Access Volume (MAV).

    He also said Malacañang would look into the claims of Lacson.

    “What is important now (is that) no one can deny that there is scarcity in supply that el to higher prices of pork. – With Jocelyn Montemayor