Imee: Goodbye to more ‘Ayuda’, PPE, Covid-19 vaccines

Senator Imee Marcos has castigated the Department of Agriculture (DA) for crippling the government’s ability to raise much needed revenue to cope with the double onslaught of African Swine Fever (ASF) and Covid-19.

Marcos accused the DA of giving President Duterte “questionable advice” that led to his signing Executive Order (EO) 128 on Wednesday, which increases pork import volumes and lowers tariffs at the same time, in a bid to reverse a supply shortage caused by ASF.

“Akala ko ba naghahanap tayo ng pera? (Aren’t we looking for more funding?) Where is the much touted whole-of-government approach?” Marcos asked.

“We just threw away Php11.5 billion of ‘ayuda,’ vaccines, PPEs (personal protective equipment) and ditched local hog raisers, all in one fell swoop,” Marcos said of what would be lost from lowering pork tariffs.

“The DA has assured pork importers of scandalous profits but has left the local hog raisers it is supposed to protect with a very sketchy plan? The Php1.5 billion that the DA allotted to the livestock industry in its 2021 budget is measly, token support, knowing ASF has been around since 2019,” Marcos added.

EO 128 supports a recommendation recently transmitted by the executive department to Congress to raise the minimum access volume (MAV) of pork imports by 350,000 metric tons (MT), or about 6.5 times its present limit of 54,210 MT, to total 404,210 MT.

Tariffs on imports within and outside the MAV are to be reduced from 30% to 5% and 40% to 10%, respectively, within the first three months after the EO takes effect, then raised by 5% each for the next nine months.

Marcos, who chairs the Senate committee on economic affairs, said that EO 128 will “surrender the country’s food security to foreign producers and exporters while forcing local hog raisers to sell at a loss.”

“Increasing pork imports and reducing tariffs may give near-term relief for consumers but will deal a double whammy on our very own hog raisers, with long-term effects,” Marcos said.

“Clearly, the main beneficiaries of the EO are foreign producers, foreign exporters, local pork importers, and perhaps corrupt government officials selling import licenses,” Marcos also said.

“The competitive advantage given to pork importers will be insurmountable and will discourage the recovery of local hog raisers. Majority of them are backyard raisers who may just decide to shut down business rather than be forced to sell at a measly profit, if not at a loss,” Marcos explained.

An April 1 report of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations stated that African Swine Fever has already affected Filipino hog raisers in 12 regions, 40 provinces, 466 cities and municipalities, and 2,425 communities.

The government has not yet declared a state of calamity due to ASF, delaying the release of more relief funds for the local hog industry.

“Local hog raisers cannot lower prices of hogs delivered from the provinces to Metro Manila when they have not even received transport subsidies as promised by the DA in February,” Marcos pointed out.

Wet market prices in Metro Manila have shot past price ceilings of Php270 for pork shoulder (kasim) and Php300 for pork belly (liempo), reaching Php370 to Php406 pesos, respectively, according to surveys conducted by Marcos’s office.

Marcos cited that the government recently gave pork importers a wider margin of profit by raising the suggested retail price (SRP) of imported pork to Php350.

“Why is the DA favoring importers? Local hog raisers have been asking for an SRP of Php339 to Php360 two months ago,” Marcos pointed out.