MANILA, Philippines – Senator Panfilo Lacson is pushing for a Senate investigation into the activities of an alleged syndicate within the Department of Agriculture (DA) that stands to gain billions of pesos in ‘tongpats’ or kickback scheme from the agency’s proposal to lower tariff rates on and to increase the volume of imported pork products due to the impact of the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak.
In a statement on Tuesday, Lacson said the alleged anomalies amount to a “triple whammy” as they not only threaten the local hog industry but raise health concerns and cost the government forgone revenues, as well.
“We should unmask who is/are behind this scheme no matter how powerful and influential he may be with this administration,” Lacson said in a radio interview.
“I want to see even a whiff of enthusiasm from the President to order the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC) 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 added.
The senator said he already talked to Senate President Vicente Sotto III for the conduct of a Senate inquiry into the alleged anomaly and to get the documents related to the issue.
“So far, we have received documents from the Bureau of Customs and DA. Still, we need more data to get to the bottom of the anomaly,” he added.
Lacson, during Monday’s Senate session, revealed that there have been reports of certain individuals within the DA imposing a kickback scheme amounting to P5 to P7 for every kilo of imported pork.
With DA’s proposal to increase the maximum volume of imported meat from 54,000 to 400,000, the syndicate could easily earn as much as P6 billion a year, he said.
The senator said this practice has been going on for several years now. Citing as an example, he said that 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 DA Secretary William Dar should know or at least have heard of this supposed issue within his department, particularly in the MAV Management Committee, headed by Acting Undersecretary William Medrano and composed of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) and the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS) – along with the “SOPs” in the allocation of quota to favored importers and the issuance of the Phyto-Sanitary Import Clearance (PSIC).
The Senate on Monday adopted a resolution urging President Rodrigo Duterte to declare a state of calamity in the country due to the threat of ASF.
The same resolution also expressed the sense of the upper chamber to persuade Duterte to disapprove the DA recommendation.
Lacson called on the PACC to look into the alleged ‘tongpats’ scheme in the DA.
“Gusto kong manawagan sa PACC to conduct a motu proprio investigation to find out kung totoo ba na at current tariff rates ang sa volume 54,000 metric tons, kung may P5-7 tong-pats per kilo, dapat alamin natin ito. Kaya siguro nagpipilit na ibaba ang tariff at itaas ang volume. Kasi katakot-takot ang balak kitain ng mga sangkot,” he said.