Senators to seek ‘compromise’ with Duterte economic team on pork imports

Senators will attempt to forge a “compromise” with President Rodrigo Duterte’s economic team over the controversial executive order (EO) that temporarily reduces taxes on pork imports.

Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III told Rappler late Tuesday night, April 27, that he will meet with Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III on Wednesday, April 28, to find a middle ground on Duterte’s EO No. 128

This is what the senators agreed upon during their all-members caucus on Tuesday afternoon after the third and last Senate committee of the whole hearing on the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak that led to dwindling supplies and soaring prices of pork.

“We agreed that I talk to Secretary Dominguez for a compromise on the results of the hearings. We’ll talk tomorrow,” Sotto said. 

EO 128 will temporarily lower the taxes on pork imports while allow an increase in the minimum access volume (MAV) or the number of allowable pork products that can be shipped to the Philippines. 

Senators are opposed to EO 128 which, they said, would “kill” the local hog industry already reeling from the double whammy of the ASF outbreak and the coronavirus pandemic. 

Congress is currently at loggerheads with the executive branch over the pork imports policy, as both the Senate and the House of Representatives called on Duterte to revoke EO 128.

EO 128 temporarily cuts the tariff rate on pork imports within the MAV from the current 30% to 5% for the first three months upon effectivity of the order, then to 10% for the next nine months.

Tariff on pork imports outside the MAV will also be reduced from the current 40% to 15% for the first three months, then 20% for the succeeding nine months.

As EO 128 lowers the tariffs,  MAV quota for pork will also be increased from 54, 210 metric tons to 404, 210 MT.

During the Tuesday hearing, Senator Cynthia Villar appealed to Dominguez to step in and help stop the clash between Congress and Duterte’s Cabinet. She earlier said the policy under EO 128 was "so out of range" and would hurt local hog raisers.

“So sana, hinihiling ko sa inyo – noon pa sumusulat  na ako sa inyo – eh mag-compromise na tayo dito. Bababaan ‘nyo ‘yung MAV at ‘wag ‘nyo na masyadong babaan ‘yung tariff,” said Villar, who chairs the Senate committee on agriculture, food, and agrarian reform.

(So I'm requesting you – I already wrote to you about this before – let’s reach a compromise here. Lower the MAV and don’t further reduce the tariff.)

Duterte has already appealed to lawmakers to give his controversial EO two months to achieve its goal, with Malacañang asking Congress to refrain from passing a joint resolution that would effectively revoke the President's order.

The earliest that Congress, which is on a two-month break, can scrap EO 128 is May 17, when session resumes.

Dominguez, Dar: 'Minds not closed' on EO

On Tuesday, Dominguez told senators that the trade-off under EO 128 would ultimately be beneficial to cash-strapped Filipinos, as it would save consumers some P67.38 billion.

But Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto was not convinced. He argued EO 128 not only gives more incentive to import pork, but it also removes protection for hog raisers especially at this time.

Recto said he is not against increasing the MAV quota per se, but the tariff rate should not be reduced to as low as 5% to 10%. 

“I understand where government is coming from – let’s allow for more importation temporarily. But what the industry is saying, sure, let’s allow for more importation, maybe we can increase the MAV, maybe we can reduce the tariff from 40% to 30% by increasing the MAV. But let’s not decrease it down to 5%! Let’s not take away all the protection for industry,” Recto said. 

The senators’ heated interpellation of Dominguez and Agriculture Secretary William Dar went on for a few hours on Tuesday. In the end, the two Cabinet officials told the lawmakers that their minds are “not closed” on EO 128.

“Our minds are not closed. We want to achieve together your goal of making sure that there is a reasonable and affordable price for pork and other food stuff for our consumers, that our inflation rate is not damaging to our economy in the long run, and definitely that there is support to the industry, the pork-producing industry," said Dominguez.

“Again, we are, as I said, I try not to be stupid – sometimes I am, but I will try not to be stupid and I will definitely listen to a proposal to move ahead on this issue. Thank you,” he added. 

Dar shared the same position, saying he would follow whatever Duterte’s economic managers would agree on in terms of finding a compromise with the senators. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the Senate and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

image