A win-win on pork
The greatest good for the greatest number” has always been my test of a good policy. Hardly anyone would dispute that, but I am constantly disappointed when people I know to have the best of intentions — along with some who don’t — miss this principle when pushing their policy advocacies. Loud noises are now being made on the crisis in pork, our second largest source of protein (next to fish) and food energy (next to rice), and which Filipinos eat more (averaging 15.2 kilos/year) than the world does (11.1 kilos).
What’s all the noise about? The President recently issued Executive Order No. 128 as proposed by the Department of Agriculture, with concurrence of the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Finance, and the National Economic and Development Authority. Temporarily lowering tariffs on much needed pork imports, it’s an emergency time-bound move to ease the desperate situation with the swine industry’s own pandemic caused by the African swine fever (ASF) virus. The Bureau of Animal Industry estimates that ASF has decimated a third of the country’s swine population, and veterinarians I know tell me it’s still raging. Pork prices have since more than doubled (reportedly breaching P400 a kilo, from P200-220 as of early last year).
It’s not often that the DA and DTI agree on a policy also concurred in by the DOF and Neda, and EO 128 is one such case. What has changed is that our agriculture authorities now also take seriously their accountability to all 108 million Filipinos for their food security, departing from a traditional stance that seemed to view farmers as their only constituency. The DTI has long recognized this wider constituency beyond only traders and industrialists as its name might suggest. Fully recognizing its accountability to consumers, it has a Consumer Protection Group led by an undersecretary. The DA has no similar branch for consumer concerns, a glaring gap that must be filled in an agency purported to champion food security for all Filipinos.
The DOF is often seen as focused on finance, and bankers tend to be chosen to lead it (perhaps overlooking that public finance is a field of economics quite distinct from private finance). Meanwhile, Neda requires leadership by a professional economist, and its charter specifies so (although this has not stopped a former president from defying this). Like the DOF, it is a government body with no sectoral focus, and by its very oversight nature, sees the whole nation as its constituency. Thus, policy directions to promote the greatest good of the greatest number are second nature to it.
This must be why Neda is a favorite whipping boy of sector advocates who understandably fight for their own constituencies as if they were the only ones that mattered. Neda must invoke the crucial role of level competition to impel the best allocation of the country’s limited resources. But it gets branded as an “import lover” and “industry killer” when it seeks more open trade that would instill the discipline of the market on our sectoral interests (including and especially those in government), while keeping goods from getting needlessly more costly to our consumers.
In the case of pork, critics (including in our own Senate) make it sound like government is leaving domestic hog producers out in the cold as it provides a much-needed safety vent to fill a supply gap now approaching half a million metric tons—never mind that it threatens our poor with even more drastic inflation likely to escalate from a domino effect. They may not know (or don’t care to know) that the Duterte administration is pouring P2.4 billion on the swine repopulation program precisely to reinvigorate the industry, including swine breeder multiplier farms, biosecurity and surveillance systems. Government banks have also allotted P27 billion for lending to commercial hog raisers, while P500 million will be lent to backyard raisers at zero interest, payable in five years. And more is coming.
Killing the domestic swine industry? Certainly not. It’s called win-win policymaking—as against “helping” some hundreds of thousands of hog raisers by senselessly inflicting heavy collateral damage on 108 million Filipinos.
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