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'Bad news': Senators slam Duterte EO lowering taxes on imported pork

Senators criticized President Rodrigo Duterte's move to reduce taxes on imported pork, warning that it means "bad news" for domestic meat producers.

On Thursday, April 8, Senate President Vicente "Tito" Sotto III said the signing of Executive Order (EO) No. 128 would hurt the local hog industry, which is already grappling with the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak.

"The local hog raisers will be utterly disappointed, not to mention the members of the Senate! That is bad news!" Sotto told reporters.

He said the number of allowable pork imports could have been raised, but tariffs should not have been lowered.

"The reason they are giving for the lowering of taxes is not acceptable. There must be something else. That's what we want to find out on Monday," added Sotto.

He was referring to the scheduled Senate committee of the whole hearing next Monday, April 12, which will look into the alleged tongpats or kickback scheme within the Department of Agriculture (DA)

This scheme is said to be worsening the country's food security crisis caused by the ASF outbreak, which is further compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.

Duterte's EO No. 128 temporarily reduces the most favored nation tariffs on fresh, chilled, or frozen pork meat for a year. It will take effect as soon as the EO is published in the Official Gazette or in a newspaper.

Senator Risa Hontiveros also did not mince words against EO No. 128.

"Clearly, hog revival is not part of its plan. Sa lagay na ito, parang tinalikuran at sinukuan na ang mga lokal nating magbababoy (At this rate, it's like we've turned our backs and given up on local hog raisers)," said the opposition senator.

She then called for adequate funding in the 2022 national budget to support biosafety, restocking, and sufficient insurance coverage to help revive the local hog industry.

"We need to be sending signals of hope for our hog raisers. We don't want the government slaughtering off the industry now, in tandem with the ASF virus," Hontiveros said in a statement.

Senator Francis Pangilinan believes the government's proposed cure to the food security crisis is "worse than the disease."

"Well siyempre nakakalungkot dahil ang ating isinusulong dito ay pangunahing concerns ng hog industry…. Hindi naman tayo tumututol sa imports per se, dahil maliwanag naman na mayroon talagang kakulangan. Ngunit ang concern natin ay mukhang, baka 'yung the cure is worse than the disease," Pangilinan told reporters via Zoom.

(Well of course we're saddened by this since we've pushed for the primary concerns of the hog industry. We're not against imports per se, because there's clearly a supply shortage. But our concern is that it seems the cure is worse than the disease.)

Pangilinan had primarily authored a Senate resolution recommending a state of calamity declaration due to the impact of the ASF outbreak. The same resolution formally opposed the DA's proposal to triple the minimum access volume or the number of allowable pork imports with lower tariffs from 54,000 metric tons to 162,000 metric tons.

Pork prices posted an inflation rate of over 20% last March, indicating that vendors struggled to comply with the price ceiling set in a separate Duterte EO.

Data from the DA showed that pork prices in Metro Manila hovered between P350 and P380 per kilo, higher than the imposed limit of P270 to P300 per kilo.

Hog raisers had also staged a pork holiday to protest Duterte's price cap and the proposal to lower tariffs on imported pork. – with reports from Ralf Rivas/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.

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