CALOOCAN CITY, April 13 (PIA) -- Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri on Monday pressed the Department of Agriculture (DA) about the unabated importation of choice cuts for local consumption, to the detriment of local producers of pork products.
"Policy-wise, importation should be the last resort of the DA. Take a look at Thailand and Vietnam. Pinagtitibay nila ang local agriculture nila. That is food security," Senator Zubiri said, following Monday's Senate Committee of the Whole hearing that looked into the food security situation brought about by the African swine fever (ASF) outbreak, and its impact on the hog raisers, particularly in light of the recently signed Executive Order No. 128, which reduces pork import tariffs from 40 percent to 5 percent. The move to lower tariff on imports was endorsed by the DA, in aim of addressing the shortage of local pork supply due to the ASF outbreak.
Zubiri further stressed his frustration over the department's attitude toward importation over the years: "Apat na administration na po ang napagdaanan ko, at nakita ko po na laging policy ng DA na mag-import. Basta nagka-problema sa presyo, import kaagad ang sagot ng DA. Hindi dapat iyan ang sagot. Dapat ang sagot ng DA, 'Sandali, dapat tulungan natin ang mga magsasaka natin kaysa mga magsasaka ng ibang bansa.' The joke among local farmers and cooperatives is that the DA should be renamed as the Department of Importation."
Agriculture Secretary William Dar agreed, saying that under his tenure, the department has been working toward strengthening the local commodity industry. But a lack of budget, he says, has made progress slow.
Zubiri also recalled that as early as March 2019, he had already warned DA of the looming threat of ASF, during a Senate hearing for the Committee on Agriculture and Food. He had recommended a ban on pork imports not only from ASF-hit countries, but also their neighboring countries.
"Pero nakapasok pa rin ang ASF dahil sa importation and smuggling, and now farmers in Luzon are totally devastated. I know people who
are down to zero hogs on their farms now.
"And with the executive order on the increased importation as well as the lowering of the import tariffs of imported pork products, lalo lang silang malulugi. If we import, we damage the local industry. So we appeal to the DA to revise the EO. Malaking dagok ito sa mga producers natin. Kahit nasa 40 percent na tariff ay mas mura na sila kaysa sa local products, tapos ibababa pa sa 5 percent."
Zubiri further said, "Ang balita pa ng mga importers ay tumaas pa lalo ang presyo ng imported pork products nung nalaman nang pork producers ng ibang bansa na binabaan natin ang taxes nito, kaya triple whammy ang nangyari.
"Nalugi na ang mga magsasaka, tapos nalugi pa ang gobyerno dahil nawalan ng buwis, at ang malala pa ay mahal pa rin ang presyo ng baboy," he said
"We're also calling on the executive to declare a state of calamity with regard to ASF, para makapag-release na tayo ng loans sa ating mga affected farmers. Let's help the industry help itself, and let's reverse the policy of always importing agricultural products," the senator added. (PIA NCR)