Duterte bows to Congress on pork tariff issue

President Rodrigo Duterte will bow to the wishes of lawmakers if they decide to revoke the executive order he issued to increase the minimum access volume and lower tariffs on imported pork products, which Congress thinks will kill the local hog industry.

“We can always withdraw the EO that I signed. Madali naman ‘yan (That’s easy). It’s just a temporary measure to bring down the prices but the senators see it in a different light,” he said in his weekly televised late-night address.

Duterte said he understands the point of senators who were concerned about his EO No. 128 lowering tariffs on imported pork meat.

“No choice but to follow. Delegated lang ang tariff fixing to President (Duterte). Primarily legislative,” Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque also told the Standard via text message Monday.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar, who presented to Duterte, said the government was not killing the local hog industry, but was just trying to import the shortfall in pork the country needed this year.

“EO 128 was a result of a painstaking process. That’s why it will really lower pork prices in the market,” he said.

He also revealed that the Department of Agriculture was talking with its United States counterpart to test a potential vaccine against African Swine Fever, which decimated local hogs and led to the pork crisis.

NEDA Acting Secretary Karl Chua also told the President that food inflation, from February to March, increased to 6% this year, which can be attributed to the increase in pork prices.

Earlier, Roque said at a Palace briefing that Congress was free to revoke the executive order.

“The Constitution provides that Congress has the primary jurisdiction of tariffs. If the Senate and the House of Representatives move to revoke the EO, that is within their authority,” Roque said in Filipino. “The President will respect that.”

Meanwhile, Senate President Vicente Sotto III pressed the Department of Agriculture (DA) Monday to identify the brains behind the government’s move to allow pork imports to flood the market.

“I want to know whose bright idea it was to hike the import ceiling and lower import taxes on pork. Who suggested this from the DA?” Sotto asked Agriculture Secretary William Dar.

“Why do they want us to import beyond what is required and at the same time lower the tariff? What’s the logical explanation for this?” Sotto asked.

Sotto said the executive order increasing the minimum access volume (MAV) while lowering tariffs on imported pork products ran counter to President Duterte’s guarantee that the prices of pork and other food products would remain accessible to the people.

“I believe that the President intended the EO to assure our people that the government is in control and that the welfare of our hog raisers, fishermen and farmers will always be the priority,” he said.

He said he believed the President would not have signed the order if he knew its negative impact on the hog raising industry.

Dar said the President’s Executive Order No. 128, which lowers the tariff rate for pork imports, is already in effect.

“The EO 128 is now in effect and that continues to be implemented by us. Whatever are needed in terms of say import clearances being requested by importers, the Bureau of Animal Industry is now issuing said import clearances,” Dar said at the joint meeting of the House committees on agriculture and food and the trade and industry.

Dar said the arrival of pork imports would be “properly managed” and that they would not kill the local hog industry.

“Our ultimate goal is really the imports will lower the prices of pork in the market and tame inflation,” Dar said.

Earlier, the Senate adopted a resolution urging the President to reverse his executive order.

In the House, 39 lawmakers also supported terminating the EO.

Executive Order 128 reduces the tariff on imported pork to between 5 percent and 10 percent. Pork importers currently pay 20 percent to 30 percent.

The order also increases the total volume of pork that may be imported to 350,000 metric tons, up from the current volume of 54,000 metric tons.

Duterte issued the order amid the spike in pork prices as the local hog industry continued to suffer from the African Swine Fever outbreak, which has killed millions of pigs nationwide since 2019.

Meanwhile, the Philippine Chamber of Agriculture and Food Inc. on Monday proposed that a price ceiling on imported pork be imposed in light of the lowering of tariff rates.

The group’s president, Danilo Fausto broached the idea to legislators at a congressional hearing Monday conducted by the House committees on agriculture and food, and the trade and industry.

He said this would pass the benefit of the lower tariff on to consumers.

The joint committee conducted the hearing in response to a resolution earlier filed by Rep. Stella Luz Quimbo of Marikina calling for a congressional inquiry into the rising pork prices, which reached about P400 per kilo.

Quimbo noted in her resolution that the year-on-year inflation rate for meat rose to 9.95 percent in December 2020 from 8.15 percent in November 2020.

At the hearing Monday, Dar said he would study the PCAF recommendation.

Twenty-two lawmakers from the House of Representatives expressed support over the joint resolution seeking to terminate EO 128.

Representatives Michael Gorriceta, Ria Christina Fariñas, Leo Rafael Cueva, Onyx Crisologo, Evelina Escudero, Pablo Ortega, Godofredo Guya, Sergio Dagooc, Presley De Jesus, Adriano Ebcas, Len Alonte, Joseph Bernos, Luis Ferrer, Estrellita Suansing, Horacio Suansing, Raymond Mendoza, Greg Gasataya, Alex Advincula, Vilma Santos-Recto, Ed Christopher Go, Diego Ty, and Allan Ty became co-authors of the joint resolution.

House Joint Resolution 37 states that tariff reduction, as well as the increased minimum access volume of pork imports, will further decimate the local pork industry and it would also undermine local production and the country’s food security.

“It is not an assurance that reduced tariffs and increased importation will stabilize or reduce the current high prices of pork meat products which have become unfairly exorbitant for consumers,” the resolution stated.

“The government must heed the urgent demands and sincere appeal of hog raisers, producers and farmers against tariff reduction and MAV expansion of pork imports,” it added.

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