Senator Panfilo M. Lacson said Wednesday convening the Senate into the Committee of the Whole would be the best way to tackle the wide scope of the problems that besets the Department of Agriculture (DA), including the “tongpats” (commission) mess.
Lacson said issues stemming from the mess include food security and a revisiting of the Food Safety Act of 2013 (RA 10611); foregone revenues; and public health.
“I am recommending that the Senate convene into a Committee of the Whole to handle the investigation. The ‘tongpats’ mess has an impact on foregone revenue and corruption, food security, and health. The Committee of the Whole is best suited for this, instead of having the Blue Ribbon Committee and Committees on Agriculture, Ways and Means and Health handle it separately,” he pointed out.
The commission (tongpats) will be given to DA insiders by a selected pork importer.
Earlier, Senator Cynthia A. Villar, chairwoman of the Senate agriculture committee, said that selected importer still profits whether or not the 30-40 tariff level is maintained or lowered to as low as 10 percent.
“My resolution seeking the investigation in aid of legislation may also seek to revisit Republic Act 10611, the Food Security Act of 2013, to address possible loopholes that are being exploited,” he added in a radio interview.
“Wide masyado ang problema, all-encompassing. Kaya mas maganda kung Committee of the Whole na lang ang hahawak,” Lacson added.
Last Monday, Lacson exposed the “tong-pats” anomaly at the DA, involving commission of P5 to P7 per kilo at present rates of 30-percent tariff on in-quota hog importation and 40 percent for off-quota importation.
He said the anomalies amount to a triple whammy that threatens to kill local hog industry while raising health concerns and costing the government forgone revenues.
“Umiiyak ang ating backyard hog raisers, mga 80,000 sila. Ang industriya ng hog-raising, P230 billion a year ito. Our backyard hog raisers will be adversely affected while the hog industry will die if the local market is flooded with imported pork and pork products – and worse, imported from countries with existing ban due to ASF (African Swine Flu),” he said.
Instead of importing at a high volume, the DA can help our local hog raisers by providing an indemnification fund and similar aid, Lacson said.
“Kung ang solusyon ay mag-import nang mag-import, lalo mong pinapatay ang industriya,” he noted.
“Walang patawad. ‘Yan ang nakakainis, parang walang kabusugan,” he added in a separate radio interview, referring to those behind the “tong-pats” scheme.
Lacson said one of the questions he aims to ask in the Senate investigation is why the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) former head, Dr. Ronnie Domingo, was transferred to the Philippine Carabao Center late January despite having issued permits to import pork from banned countries due to the ASF.
Citing information reaching him, Lacson said that under Domingo’s watch, the violations continued until September 2020.
Lacson also said he wants to find out if there was outside pressure on the DA to recommend the raising of the minimum access volume (MAV) of pork imports and the lowering of tariffs.