DA probes pork ‘scam’

THE Department of Agriculture (DA) will investigate allegations of some lawmakers that a syndicate would rake in as much as P6 billion in kickbacks from the allocation of meat import certificates under the in-quota Minimum Access Volume (MAV) scheme.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar

Agriculture Secretary William Dar said a special committee headed by the department’s legal service chief would conduct the investigation.

“While we stand firm that the issuance of MAV in-quota allocation is aboveboard and nondiscretionary, we have created a special committee to look into allegations made by a lawmaker that there is a syndicate in the DA engaged in a payoff scheme,” Dar said.

On Monday, Sen. Panfilo Lacson alleged that a syndicate in the DA that imposes “tongpats” or padded costs on pork imports could get as much as P6 billion or an extra P5 to P7 per kilo of imported pork.

“We should unmask who is/are behind this scheme no matter how powerful and influential he may be with this administration,” Lacson said in a statement.

The DA-MAV Secretariat, however, denied irregularities in the issuance of import certificates, saying the licensees are the same ones who have been accredited in the past years.

“We would like to emphasize that our objective in increasing the MAV and reducing tariff is to stabilize supply and price of pork,” Dar said.

The Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (Sinag) in a statement on Wednesday claimed that the DA had long known of the modus of pork importers but failed to act on it.

“The DA had never contested our claim as figures speak for themselves. And we are not wondering anymore why after all this time, ni hindi tsinek ng DA ‘yung (the DA has not checked the) importers or the suppliers of these importers on the true value of these imports,” said Sinag Chair Rosendo So.

The group said it would seek the help of international trade experts to check on the prices of these imports and file the appropriate case thereafter.

The DA moved to increase the MAV and lower the tariff on pork imports in a bid to stabilize supply and prices of pork.

The Senate, however, passed a resolution calling on President Rodrigo Duterte to reject the DA’s recommendation to increase the MAV from 54,000 to 404,000 metric tons. The agency has also sought to lower the tariff from 30 percent to 5 percent if within import quota.

Under the MAV scheme, the DA issues import certificates to MAV licensees that may avail part of the annual in-quota allocation of 54,000 metric tons and pay a tariff of 30 percent.

Firms wanting to import beyond the MAV volume will have to pay a higher tariff of 40 percent.