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Senator Imee Marcos has called on the Department of Agriculture (DA) to justify its choice of Subic as the future site of a Php500-million, laboratory-equipped “cold examination facility” for agricultural imports – the first of its kind in the country.

Marcos fears the higher risk of another African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak if the facility’s first-border inspections are not based instead in Manila, where most meat imports are shipped.

“What’s cooking in Subic, that imported meat and crops must be diverted away from Manila?” Marcos asked.

“Ini-import na natin lahat ng pagkain. Pati ba naman sakit? (We’re already importing all kinds of food. Must diseases be imported too?),” she added.

Marcos also said that food imports will become more expensive for Metro Manila’s 12 million residents due to the additional cost of delivery from Subic.

A July 18 briefer of the Department of Agriculture recommended the facility’s location, funding, and construction by June 2023 to President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., who concurrently heads the agency.

Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) insiders said the project, first proposed in 2019 but whose funding lapsed in 2020, could have been built last year in Manila’s South Harbor, where a vacant 5,000-square-meter lot known as Block 162 was being managed by Asian Terminals Inc. under a concession granted by the Philippine Ports Authority.

But they added that former DA Secretary William Dar and BAI Director Reildrin Morales had pushed for construction of the laboratory-equipped facility in either Subic or Cebu.

“It’s been nine years since the Food Safety Act became law, but first-border inspections have not been properly enforced. The facility’s location is key to achieving food safety and security,” Marcos said.

Although ASF cases have subsided since nationwide outbreaks began in 2019, Marcos warned that a major outbreak could again be triggered by contaminated pork imports and cause business closures and job losses in the swine industry, a shortage of pork products, and a further increase in already high market prices of pork.

Pork imports amounting to 545,213,681 kilos made up about 54% of total meat imports from January to September this year, according to the BAI.

Spain, Canada, and Brazil have supplied 61% of the Philippines’ pork requirements, with Belgium, the United States, Denmark, the United Kingdom, France, and the Netherlands supplying the rest.