MANILA - An official from the Department of Agriculture (DA) on Wednesday said an investigating panel has been created to look into an alleged kickback scheme in the agency linked to the proposed increase of pork imports even as he believes it does not exist.
“Kami po ay naniniwala na wala naman pong ganyang ‘tongpats’ system sa Department of Agriculture, lalong-lalo na dito sa under ng leadership ni Sec. William Dar,” DA Undersecretary William Medrano told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(We believe that the alleged tongpats system does not exist in the DA, especially under Sec. William Dar's leadership.)
Medrano said Dar created a fact-finding committee to find out whether the racket exists or not, noting that it was their first time hearing about the alleged scheme.
In a statement, the DA said its legal service chief is heading the committee, which will base its inquiry on the initial findings of the DA-Minimum Access Volume (MAV) Secretariat.
“While we stand firm that the issuance of MAV in-quota allocation is above-board and non-discretionary, we have created a special committee to look into allegations made by a lawmaker that there is a syndicate in the DA engaged in a payoff scheme,” Dar said in the statement.
“Nasabi din ni Sen. (Panfilo) Lacson na matagal na raw ito. Kami po ay bago lamang sa DA, at first time namin narinig na mayroong ganyang ‘tongpats.’ Kami po ay naniniwala na sa ngayon ay wala pong ganyan,” Medrano said in the TeleRadyo interview.
(Sen. Lacson mentioned that this already happened even before. We are just new to the DA, and it is our first time hearing about this tongpats. We believe that now, there is no such thing.)
“Mayroong ongoing fact-finding at malalaman namin kung talagang mayroong tongpats system at kung sino ang mga tao,” he added.
(There is an ongoing fact-finding committee and we will know whether it exists and who are the people behind it.)
Lacson earlier this week alleged that a syndicate in the agriculture department would collect P5 to P7 for every kilo of the 400,000 metric tons of pork that will be imported in the proposal to increase the minimum access volume (MAV).
This is equivalent to P6 billion in kickbacks, he said.
Medrano pointed out that Lacson’s accusations remain as “anticipations” because the government has yet to approve the MAV increase, which would lower tariffs on pork imports.
“Nag-anticipate siya [na] mangyari yung ganoon kalaki kapag matutuloy ‘yung approval at saka implementation noong increase ng MAV allocation... Sa ngayon, sa totoo lang, wala pang na-approve, wala pang implementation. Therefore, di naman nangyayari pa ‘yung sinasabing P6 billion na tongpats,” he said.
(He is just anticipating that the people supposedly involved will get that money, should the MAV be approved. For now, there is no approval yet, no implementation. Therefore, no one has benefited yet from the supposed P6 billion.)
Malacañang had said President Rodrigo Duterte would look into the matter, and that he still trusts Dar.
A month ago, Dar said his agency already submitted to Malacañang its recommendation to increase the MAV on pork imports to raise the country's stock following supply woes caused by the African swine fever outbreak in the country.
“We would like to emphasize that our objective in increasing the MAV and reducing tariff is to stabilize supply and price of pork,” the DA chief said Wednesday.