MANILA, Philippines – Senator Joel Villanueva on Monday called on the Department of Agriculture (DA) to “do everything in its power” to resolve the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak, and to prioritize the extension of aid to struggling local hog industry stakeholders.
“This food crisis is a local problem that must have a local solution. In order of priority, unahin po natin ang pagsugpo sa ASF at pagtulong sa mga magbababoy. Iyan ang tanong po natin sa DA ngayon. Ano po ang farm-level solutions nyo?” Villanueva said in Monday’s Senate hearing on the alleged “tongpats scheme” within the DA on imported pork.
Villanueva made the call as he expressed apprehension over President Rodrigo Duterte’s Executive Order 128 to temporarily lower the tariffs on pork imports to resolve the existing pork supply shortage and stabilize meat prices in the country.
“At hindi po ako naniniwala na ang solusyon sa krisis na ito ay mag-import ng karne. An imported virus is killing local pigs. We should not let too much imported pork finish off what is left of our hog industry. Our salvation cannot be found in foreign farms,” he said.
Villanueva said that the ASF outbreak has reduced the supply of local pork in the market and that he wants to know what the DA is doing to counter this scarcity that has been driving the prices of meat to unaffordable levels.
“Maliban sa pag-alis ng tariff walls, ano po ang farmgate interventions ng DA? The national swine inventory is down by 3 million heads. Piggeries have been emptied of one-fourth of their stocks. This 25-percent plunge in the livestock population translates to a 100-percent bankruptcy rate in many pig farms. Biyak na po pati kanilang piggy banks,” he said in a separate statement.
The senator noted that in Bulacan alone, the pork production inventory was already down by one-third last year while the hog production in the whole Central Luzon plunged to one-fourth in 2020.
“P8,000 po ang nawalang kita sa kada ulo ng baboy. Di hamak mas malaki po ito sa P1,000 na ayuda ng gobyerno kada ulo sa isang bahay,” he said.
Other senators have earlier called on Duterte to reconsider and recall EO 128 as this will only further burden local hog raisers who are already suffering from the negative impact of the ASF crisis.
Under EO 128, the tariff rate for imported pork meat within quota or minimum access volume will be pegged at 5 percent for the first three months of the order’s effectivity and 10 percent during the months four to 12.
For pork imports outside the quota, the order cuts the tariff to 15 percent during the first three months upon its effectivity, and 20 percent for the months four to 12.
The EO said that the current 30 percent to 40 percent tariff rate for imported pork will be restored after the 12th month.
“There is an urgent need to temporarily reduce the Most Favoured Nation (MFN) tariff rates on fresh, chilled or frozen meat of swine to address the existing pork supply shortage, stabilize prices of pork meat, and minimize inflation rates,” Duterte said in his order.
Senator Panfilo Lacson, however, said there is no need to import more pork products because the local production is already more than sufficient to address the shortage of pork supply.
Citing data from the Philippine Statistics Authority, Lacson said the average nationwide consumption of pork products from 2018 to 2020 was at 1.85 million metric tons.
During the same period, the average annual local production of pork was 2.25 million metric tons.
“So where is the shortage? Hindi man malinaw na higit pa sa sapat ang supply mula sa local na production upang matugunan ang pangangailangan ng ating bansa?” Lacson said in his opening statement at the hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole on the food security crisis.
“Ito ay sa kabila ng umiiral na African Swine Fever (ASF) na nagsimulang nakapasok sa bansa noon pa mang Agosto 2019 na siyang ginawa nilang pangunahing dahilan sa pagkumbinsi kay Presidente Duterte upang pirmahan ang nasabing EO 128,” he added.
The investigation into the food security crisis stemmed from allegations about a kickback scheme in the pork importation process within the Department of Agriculture.
Agriculture Secretary William Dar earlier denied involvement in the alleged scheme and that an investigation has been launched into the issue.