Clash looms as pissed lawmakers vow to repeal Duterte EO on pork tariffs
Meat stalls are empty at the Trabajo Market in Sampaloc, Manila as vendors take part in a pork holiday last February 8, the first day of a price ceiling imposition for pork and chicken in Metro Manila.
Edd Gumban

Clash looms as pissed lawmakers vow to repeal Duterte EO on pork tariffs

Ian Nicolas Cigaral (Philstar.com) - April 13, 2021 - 3:29pm

MANILA, Philippines — A clash between the Executive and legislative departments over pork tariffs reached a new boiling point on Tuesday as legislators stepped up to overturn President Rodrigo Duterte’s order that lowered levies on imported meat.

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, together with Senators Cynthia Villar and Francis Pangilinan are all set to file a resolution to revoke Executive Order 128 that did not only increased minimum allowable pork imports, but also cut the tariffs for those products as well as those shipped in excess of that.

At the House of Representatives, Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said in a text message the Makabayan bloc is set to file the same to reverse Duterte’s EO.

“The irrational and drastic decision to increase the minimum access volume or MAV serves as a final ‘nail in the coffin’ of the local hog industry,” Drilon said in a statement. Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque has not responded to request for comment.

The pronouncements were an escalation of Monday’s Senate hearing where senators visibly showed their exasperation over the EO whose draft they formally opposed before going on recess last March 26. As it stands, there is a slim chance that the push to override Duterte’s EO would succeed: Congress is currently on break and will only resume debates by May 16, unless Duterte calls for a special session.

That said, the move from both houses, especially that coming from senators allied with the administration including Villar and Senator Imee Marcos, was a rare display of resistance to Duterte, whose approval rating suffered a dramatic drop due public perception of a bungled pandemic response, over a year before he steps down from office. 

Legally speaking, legislators are also standing in solid ground. Under Section 1608 of the Tariffs and Customs Code of the Philippines, a presidential order than tinkers with tariffs may be “withdrawn or terminated” simply with a joint Congress resolution which tends to get passed faster than a bill, and does not require Duterte's approval to take effect. 

At the heart of opposition to EO 128 was the fear that with the flood of cheaper imported pork, local hog raisers, already suffering from the African swine fever, are left defenseless and at risk of losing their livelihoods.

That is even if the EO’s intention was pure, that which intends to augment depleting domestic supply of pigs that pushed inflation to a 2-year peak of 4.7% in February.

“Given the current shortage of supply and current depletion of stocks caused by African swine fever, the immediate solution would be to import stocks from abroad to normalize supply and impact prices,” said Nicholas Antonio Mapa, senior economist at ING Bank in Manila, said in an email.

No less than Senate President Vicente Sotto III has not ruled out overturning Duterte on pork tariffs. “But we have to review the technicalities,” he said in a text message before Drilon, Pangilinan and Villar issued a statement later in the day.

But for Albay Rep. Joey Salceda, there may not be enough time to tackle any resolution that challenges the president’s order. “If you look at the periods of adjustment that were put there, it becomes impractical to legislate those tariffs,” Salceda, chairman of the House ways and means committee, explained.

Absent a price ceiling that already expired and other long-term solutions, Mapa warned that an “outright reversal” from more imports can again trigger higher meat prices.

“Thus, perhaps the best way forward would be a compromise of bringing in a modest amount of imported pork to alleviate supply while also supporting the local producers, backyard hog raisers included, to repopulate their stocks in the near and medium term,” he said. — with Xave Gregorio and Bella Perez-Rubio

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