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Sotto to DA: Unmask pork import mastermind
A vendor arranges slices of pork at his stall in Kamuning, Quezon City.
Michael Varcas, file

Sotto to DA: Unmask pork import mastermind

Paolo Romero (The Philippine Star) - April 20, 2021 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Vicente Sotto III pressed yesterday Agriculture Secretary William Dar to identify the brains behind the government’s move to lower pork tariffs and allow millions of kilos of meat imports to flood the country.

He said Dar should name at the next Senate committee of the whole hearing the persons or groups who pushed President Duterte to issue Executive Order 128 that increased the minimum access volume (MAV) and lowered tariffs on pork.

“I want to know whose bright idea it was to hike the import ceiling and lower import taxes on pork. Who suggested this to the DA (Department of Agriculture)? Why do they want to import beyond what is required and at the same time lower the tariff? What’s the logical explanation here?” Sotto asked partly in Filipino.

He said if it was “not the DA who pushed for the issuance of the EO, then who did?”

Sotto believed that the EO is contrary to Duterte’s guarantee that the prices of pork and other food products will remain accessible to people, especially now that the economy is in recession as it grapples with the pandemic.

The President, he said, intended the EO to assure the people that the government is in control and the welfare of hog raisers, fishermen and farmers will always be prioritized.

“He would not have signed this if no one lobbied for it,” Sotto added.

Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri also sought yesterday a meeting among senators, stakeholders and Duterte to convince the Chief Executive to revoke the EO.

“I think if the President sees the whole picture, maybe his plans will change,” Zubiri said during a press briefing at Malacañang.

Under the EO, the tariff on pork imports under MAV quota is reduced to five percent for the first three months of the order’s validity and to 10 percent for the 4th to 12th months.

For imports outside the MAV, the duty is reduced to 15 percent on the first three months and 20 percent for the 4th to 12th month of its effectivity.

Duterte also raised the MAV from 54,000 metric tons to 350,000 MT.

While Congress is the one mandated to set or change tariffs and import volumes, the President can do so if lawmakers are not in session. Congress is on a break and will resume session on May 17.

Palace spokesman Harry Roque said Duterte would respect Congress if it decides to revoke EO 128, noting that the President is aware that the legislature has primary jurisdiction over tariffs.

“If Congress decides to revoke the executive order of our President, it is within the power of Congress and that will be respected by our President. As I said previously, the President listens,” he said at yesterday’s press briefing.

Roque also said that Dar, whose agency recommended the lowering of pork tariffs, still enjoys Duterte’s trust and confidence.

“It seems that the confidence of the President is still there because he believed the advice of Secretary Dar, which is the opposite of the convictions of our senators,” he said in Filipino. – Alexis Romero

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