Senate probe into DA ‘tongpats’ set April 6

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    THE Senate would convene into a Committee of the Whole after the Holy Week and look into allegations that a syndicate inside the Department of Agriculture has been raking in billions of pesos in connection with various anomalies related to the importation of pork products.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the COW would hold its first hearing on April 6 and would, among others, identify the personalities behind the expose of Sen. Panfilo Lacson that corrupt DA officials have pocketed P6 billion from a “tongpats” scheme in pork importation.

    According to Lacson, the syndicate adds as much as P5 to P7 per kilo of imported pork and can earn up to P44.64 per kilo from the P284 per kilo sales of importers. The scheme is made possible allegedly when the volume of pork imports is increased and tariffs are lowered.

    The COW would likewise look into the food crises caused by the ASF.

    According to Lacson, the ASF problem began in 2018 when officials of the Bureau of Animal Industry, which was at the time headed by Director Ronnie Domingo, allowed the illegal entry of pork meat and other pork products from banned countries like Hungary, Belgium, Germany, and China.

    Sotto said they would have wanted to kick off the hearings before Congress take its summer break, but could not do so because the Senate is on lockdown until today due to the rising number of infected employees. The building will likewise be on lockdown the entire Holy Week, and would reopen on April 5.

    Lawmakers will go on their summer break starting March 26. They return to work on May 17.

    Senate Resolution No. 685 also takes into account the call of the Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines (AGAP), which represents some 80,000 backyard hog raisers, for the Senate to probe the proposed expansion of the minimum access volume (MAV) from 54,000 metric tons to 400,000 metric tons, and the imposition of a reduced tariff from 30 percent to five percent for in-quota importation and 40 percent to 15 percent for out-quota importation of pork products.

    “Unscrupulous individuals have found a way to illegally profit from this new scheme through the imposition of ‘tongpats’ amounting to P5 to P7 per kilo of imported pork at present rate which could significantly increase upon the approval of the proposed tariff rate reduction… and the MAV allocation is increased under this proposition,” the resolution said.

    AGAP, on the other hand, said the P13.95 billion in foregone government tariff revenues is enough to finance the indemnification of all ASF-affected hogs since the remaining hog population is 8.5 million.