Over a month since the Senate passed a resolution urging the declaration of a state of calamity due to the African swine fever (ASF) which is needed to free up funds to address the disease, government officials say that a resolution has already been cleared for approval of the President.
The Senate Committee of the Whole convened for the third time recently to discuss the ASF outbreak, of which estimates show over P60 billion worth of damages has already been incurred by the local hog industry.
“The bureaucracy hopefully can act faster because the Senate Committee on Agriculture already endorsed this March 9.”
“Our concern precisely is that the bureaucracy hopefully can act faster because the Senate Committee on Agriculture already endorsed this March 9, and it’s already April. If it’s a state of calamity declaration, one would like to think we should act swiftly,” Senator Kiko Pangilinan said.
Pangilinan is the main proponent of the Senate Resolution No. (SRN) 676 urging the Department of Agriculture (DA) to recommend to the President the declaration of a state of calamity due to ASF’s severe impact on the swine industry.
SRN 676 was filed on March 10, 2021, and was adopted on March 15 as Resolution No. 97, also taking into consideration SRN 684 on tariff rates.
According to National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Undersecretary Mercedita Sombilla, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) has already met on the matter of declaring a state of calamity and a resolution has been cleared for approval of the President.
DA Undersecretary Engineer Ariel Cayanan further notes that the Office of the President coursed the DA’s recommendation for a state of calamity through the NDRRMC, and NDRRMC chair Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana was given the go-signal to write directly to the Office of the President while the endorsements and provisions have already been provided.
“The local industry has been crying, has been bleeding in terms of challenges. We hope that the state of calamity can be immediately issued because we are already in the second quarter of the year,” the veteran legislator said.
“Talagang if we are serious about addressing the local hog industry’s challenges, then that would be one clear indication of the resolve of the government,” the seasoned lawmaker said.
In previous Senate hearings, DA Secretary William Dar said that the DA needs P8.6 billion to address the ASF in 2021.
Current budget of the DA for ASF only stands at P2.6 billion.
“The declaration of a state of calamity will free up disaster relief funds allocated in the 2021 budget to be used for ASF management, prevention, and indemnification.”
The senator stressed that the declaration of a state of calamity will free up disaster relief funds allocated in the 2021 budget to be used for ASF management, prevention, and indemnification.
Revisiting the issue of the disparity in data between the DA and the Bureau of Customs (BoC) in the matter of pork importation, he said that differing data is prima facie evidence of smuggling.
In an earlier Senate Committee of the Whole hearing, the BoC reported that the total value of imported pork in 2020 was over 225 million kilos worth over P16 billion.
The Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), for its part, said that the Philippines imported over 256 million kilos of pork.
“We reiterated that the 31 million kilos is more than half the MAV allocation. And 31 million kilos is not a small amount. How do you explain and reconcile the huge gap between the figures of the Department of Finance and the DA? Your BAI says one figure, the BoC says another figure. Does that mean to say that 31 million kilos did not go through the BoC and therefore was smuggled?” Pangilinan asked during the hearing.
Despite urging for clarification from several senators, the BoC and the BAI said that they stand by their data.
BoC Commissioner Rey Leonardo Guerrero said that it is possible that the BAI data were based on import clearances issued, which may not have been necessarily utilized.
This was disputed by BAI Director Dr. Reildrin Morales, saying that the BAI data are based on actual arrivals as reported by quarantine officers.
“Paiba-iba yung sagot eh so hindi namin alam and 31 million kilos is not a small number. You don’t have to have the answers now but we have to have an answer as to why there is a discrepancy. I’d like to know if 31 million kilos that is not in the record of the BoC was smuggled,” he said.
BAI proposes to sit down with the BoC to reconcile data — which Pangilinan notes is precisely what the Senate wants to happen.
“Both are claiming now that these are the millions of kilos that actually arrived but they are not the same number. There are 31 million kilos that cannot be explained…Meaning mas marami ang pumasok according to WTO pero mas maliit naman ang pumasok [according to BoC] and therefore the question is, is this smuggled? And it’s unfortunate that both agencies are standing by their conflicting records. How do we move forward?” he said.
The Senate has suspended the Committee of the Whole hearings with hope that there can be a compromise between the government and the private sector on the matter of ASF.
The Committee of the Whole is expected to release a committee report based on the last three hearings.