MANILA (2nd UPDATE)- Several senators on Thursday said they were "disappointed" over President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to cut pork tariffs to address a supply shortage in country.
The minimum access volume (MAV) could have been raised instead of lowering tariffs, Senate President Vicente Sotto III told reporters in a text message.
"The local hog raisers will be utterly disappointed not to mention the members of the Senate!" Sotto said.
"That is bad news... the reason they are giving for the lowering of taxes is not acceptable. There must be something else," he said.
On Wednesday, Duterte reduced pork import tariffs as the Philippines— the world's seventh biggest pork importer— sought to import some 400,000 tons of the meat this year to augment the shortage of supply due to African Swine Fever outbreaks.
The planned import was set to regulate rising prices of pork to slow down inflation, but a group of local hog raisers said they would stop operations should pork import tariffs be reduced.
"If we want to import pork, our present system allows importers to import pork," ProPork president Nicanor Briones earlier said.
"Any importer can import pork using the out quota tariff of 40 percent. There is no quantitative restriction," he said.
Senate Committee on Agriculture, Food, and Agrarian Reform chair Cynthia Villar said she "does not agree" with the decision of the President as current rates on imported meat are "low already."
About 70 percent of imported meat - usually offals - are charged with 5 to 10 percent tariff, while the rest are subjected to 30 percent tariff, Villar said.
"The tariff is low already and I do not think there is a need to bring down the tariff anymore," she said.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros also called Malacañang's decision as "very disappointing," saying the lowering of pork tariffs is a "capitulationist stance."
"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" she said.
Malacañang should declare a state of calamity so that the Department of Agriculture could use a portion of the calamity funds to provide cash aid and assistance for hog raisers that would now have to compete with foreign meat producers, minority Sen. Francis Pangilinan said.
Under the 2021 budget, the Agriculture department only had P2.6 billion for the management of ASF, Pangilinan told reporters in a local press conference.
"Pero ang kailangan nila ay P8 billion. Kasama dapat doon ang indemnification at cash for work program," he said.
(But they need P8 billion. That should include indemnification and cash for work programs.)
EFFECT ON HOG RAISERS
Pangilinan also warned of the backyard hog raisers' possible sadder state with the decision of the President to lower tariffs amid the plea of industry players who he said felt "ignored."
He said that with the move, the country could be "pork import dependent."
"That really is talagang nalungkot for our food security effort… a stop gap measure is importation. Pero hindi tayo kailangang ma-addict sa imported na karne,” he pointed out.
(This is really saddening for our food security effort... We should not be addicted to importing meat.)
“Ito’y sentimyento ng lokal na industriya ng mga magbababoy na 70% mahihirap. 'Yun ang nakakalungkot dito, na yung daing nung mahihirap na magba-baboy, na yung daing ng sector ay hindi binigyan ng pansin,” he added.
(This is the sentiment of our local hog industry who are 70 percent poor. That is the saddest part, that their concerns were ignored.)
The senator also noted that the national government declared a state of calamity to aid the agriculture sector in 1995 during the outbreak of the foot and mouth disease, and again in 2014 when coconut trees in Calabarzon were infested with the "cocolisap."
"The declaration of a state of calamity will be meaningful," he said.
The Senate "cannot question the president’s authority under the law to adjust tariff rates while Congress is not in session," Sen. Panfilo Lacson said in a separate statement.
The chamber would instead hold a Congressional investigation next week "to dig deeper into the circumstances that brought the hog and poultry industry to this pathetic state," he said.
- With a report from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News