PASAY CITY – Sen. Panfilo M. Lacson thus scored  those behind the corruption at the Department of Agriculture, who he said threaten not just the country’s food security but also national security.

“There is nothing more basic than food, especially in a pandemic. If corruption infects the Department of Agriculture that should be at the forefront of food security efforts, it goes beyond human conscience. Wala na. Saan pa tayo pupulutin kung ang mga walang kaluluwa walang konsensya pati pagkain ng ordinaryong Pilipino di papatawarin?” Lacson said in a radio interview.

“May kumita na sa PPE, may kumita kung saan-saan, may kumita sa smuggling. Pati ba naman itong pagkain sa hapag-kainan, titirahin pa rin?” he added.

Lacson also reiterated his warning that such corrupt practices – compounded by Executive Order 128 that brings down tariff rates for imported pork products – may make local hog raisers and those depending on them vulnerable to recruitment by the New People’s Army.

“It will be easy for the NPA to recruit new members, especially those who go hungry after losing their livelihood and blame government policies for their plight. This has given the NPA an opportunity to recruit. This will add to our national security problem,” he said.

During the first hearing of the Senate Committee of the Whole on food security, Lacson warned of some P5.4 billion in foregone revenues with the lower tariffs specified in EO 128.

The P5.4 billion does not yet take into account questionable practices such as the possible misdeclaration, underdeclaration or outright smuggling that caused government to lose more than P1 billion a year in the importation of fish and seafood products from 2015 to 2020, he noted.

On the other hand, Lacson questioned the seeming tendency of the DA to resort to importation instead of finding more practical alternatives – such as redistributing produce from areas where there is a surplus to those where there is a shortage.

“It came to the point that Senate President Vicente Sotto III and I were joking that the DA has become a Department of Importation because it seems all the solutions it can think of are centered on importation. Instead of helping local hog and poultry raisers, why insist on importation as the solution? Is it because there is money to be made there?” he said.

The Senate Committee of the Whole later adopted a resolution urging President Duterte to withdraw Executive Order 128, which provides for the temporary modification of the rates of the import duty for fresh, chilled, or frozen meat of swine, and to recall the recommendation to increase the Minimum Access Volume (MAV) of pork.

The committee asserted that “the power to fix tariff rates and import quotas fall within the realm of the power of taxation, a power which is within the sole province of the legislature under the Constitution.”

“Under our system of laws, the setting of the MAV and the power to set the tariff rates are the functions of Congress. The exercise of the President of the power to increase the MAV and to lower the tariff are delegated authorities of Congress, which may be withdrawn or terminated by Congress through a joint resolution,” said Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, author of the resolution.

Drilon said the two policies under EO 128 “can potentially spell the demise of our local hog industry, most of them belong to what we call backyard hog raisers.”

The bipartisan resolution was co-authored by Senate President Vicente Sotto, Senate President Pro-Tempore Ralph Recto, Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri, and senators Juan Edgardo Sonny Angara, Nancy Binay, Juliana Pilar Pia Cayetano, Leila de Lima, Risa Hontiveros, Manuel Lito Lapid, Panfilo Lacson, Maria Imelda Imee Marcos, Emmanuel Manny Pacquiao, Francis Pangilinan, Mary Grace Poe, Richard Gordon, Ramon Revilla Jr., Joel Villanueva, and Cynthia Villar.

On April 19, President Duterte said he is willing to withdraw his executive order reducing pork tariffs as soon as there is an improvement in the country’s domestic supply.

In a pre-recorded meeting with Cabinet officials, Duterte said that he understood the sentiments of senators calling to revoke his executive order.

“I can understand from where the senators come from. There is also the domestic supply which they intend to protect and they are vehement about it because I think that – I think that they think that they are right,” he said.

He acknowledged that it was natural for senators to protect the local hog industry, but noted that his economic managers were in favor of Executive Order (EO) No. 128 to stabilize the prices of pork products.

Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua, in the same meeting, reiterated support for lower pork tariffs, emphasizing the need to address the deficiency in supply while bringing down the country’s inflation rate.

“We are in a Covid crisis right now. We can’t afford that people will have an income problem and a price problem,” Chua said.

Duterte assured senators that the EO is temporary and could be lifted once prices of pork go down.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar denied allegations of corruption in the Department of Agriculture, particularly in the importation of big volume of pork which local producers criticized as trying to decimate them.

Dar, meanwhile, said there will be a “calibrated” arrival of pork imports in the country as the executive order which reduces pork tariffs takes effect.

During a House of Representatives committee hearing,  Secretary Dar said Executive Order (EO) 128 which reduces the tariff on pork importation is already in effect with import clearances already being issued by the Bureau of Animal Industry.

“We would like to assure that calibrated arrival of said imports will be properly managed and hoping that, yes, our ultimate goal is really that the imports will lower the prices of pork in the market,” Dar said.

Dar said the DA would also study the imposition of price ceiling on imported pork products.

EO 128, issued by President Rodrigo Duterte on April 7, reduced the tariff rate on pork imports within the minimum access volume (MAV) to 5 percent for the first three months upon the effectivity of the order and to 10 percent for the next nine months from the current rate of 30 percent.

Under EO 128, pork imports outside MAV were also reduced with a lower tariff of 15 percent for the first three months and 20 percent for the succeeding nine months from the current rate of 40 percent.

To protect local hog raisers from bankruptcy, the Senate Committee of the Whole on April 15 adopted the resolution asking Duterte to revoke EO 128.

House committee on agriculture and food chairman Mark Enverga said his panel will set another hearing for House Joint Resolution 37 revoking EO 128.

In an appeal letter, Enverga, Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, and House Committee Trade and Industry Chairman John Reynald Tiangco asked Duterte to reconsider his recommendation increasing the MAV for pork by 350,000 metric tons (MT) while retaining the existing 40 percent tariff.

Enverga said allowing importation beyond the shortage and with a lower tariff will cause oversupply not only in Luzon, but also in the Visayas and Mindanao where there is ample supply of pork.

“The members of the Committees [on Food and Agriculture and House Committee on Trade and Industry] are one with the livestock sector in expressing its opposition to the volume being requested by DA [Department of Agriculture], as industry data and data provided by the Philippine Statistics Authority only showed a shortage of 150,275 metric tons,” Enverga said.

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte respects the power of Congress to withdraw or terminate his EO through a joint resolution