Opinion

Pork import 'tong-pats'

Pork import 'tong-pats'

Instead of just one committee, the Senate’s Committee of the Whole will look into allegations that a group within the Department of Agriculture is collecting “tong-pats” – a term that gained notoriety during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. This time, tong-pats refers to the alleged padding of the cost of pork imports by P5 to P7 per kilo by crooks in the DA.

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, who proposed the probe by the entire chamber, provided the information that with the scheme, the group could rake in as much as P6 billion from the crisis that has hit the hog industry due to the continuing spread of African swine fever. While ASF-tainted pork can be eaten by humans, the quality of the meat suffers and the disease is highly lethal to hogs. Swine growers have therefore depopulated hundreds of thousands of hogs since 2019 to save the bulk of their livestock.

Citing industry sources, Lacson has warned that the tong-pats could significantly increase if tariffs on pork imports are reduced to five percent  while the minimum access volume for pork imports is raised from the current 54,000 metric tons to 400,000 MT, as planned by the Department of Agriculture. The DA is launching its own probe of Lacson’s allegations.

Pork producers, who admit that the impact of ASF necessitates importation, say 400,000 MT is too much. Combined with the lowering of tariff, the producers say the flood of pork imports could devastate the local industry, which is already reeling from the ASF pestilence.

Similar allegations have been raised in connection with massive rice importations in the past, especially for imports from one particular country. No one was indicted in connection with the allegations.

While the Senate tries to unearth the truth on pork imports, the national government must intensify efforts to stop the spread of ASF. At the same time, it should listen to the appeals of pork producers for greater assistance to revive ASF-devastated hog farms. Pork and chicken are the most popular meats in the Philippines, and the country must work to be as self-reliant as possible in the production of these agricultural products.