Mehol K. Sadain
Eight years ago, Republic Act No. 9997 (February 18, 2012) mandated the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) to “promote and develop the Philippine Halal Industry and accredit halal-certifying entities/bodies for the utmost benefit of Muslim Filipinos and in partnership or cooperation with appropriate agencies, individuals and institutions here and abroad”.
Pursuant to this mandate, NCMF approved and issued the criteria and guidelines for the accreditation of Halal Certification bodies/entities in the Philippines, and formed the Halal Promotion, Development and Accreditation Board for the purpose.
From 2012 to 2013, the NCMF accredited the following as halal-certifying bodies: 1) Muslim Mindanao Halal Certification Board, Inc. (MMHCB) based in Cotabato City; 2) Mindanao Halal Authority (MINHA) based in General Santos City, and 3) Halal International Chamber of Commerce and Industries of the Philippines, Inc. (HICCIP) based in Greenhills, Metro Manila. These became NCMF’s accredited private partners in the Philippine Halal Industry. Upon their accreditation, the NCMF vouched for their integrity as accredited certifiers and relayed the same to concerned domestic and foreign institutions and stakeholders.
Unlike in the past, when government-linked certifiers competed with private halal certifiers, this time the law ensured that halal certification was the sole enclave of the private sector; and the government, through its nationally recognized Office that look after the welfare of Filipino Muslims, focused on the accreditation of halal certifiers, under the inherent police power of the State. Through accreditation, the state assumes part of the responsibility in ensuring the quality and reliability of the work or product of the private halal certifier it accredits. Well and good.
The halal mandate of NCMF, however was short-lived. On May 16, 2016, the present halal accreditation law, Republic Act No. 10817 otherwise known as the “Philippine Halal Export Development and Promotion Act of 2016” was passed. It amended the pertinent provision on halal in R.A. 9997, and created the Philippine Halal Export Development and Promotion Board chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), with the Secretary of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) reduced to a vice chairman. The other members of the new policy-making ‘Halal Board’ are the Secretaries of Agriculture, Health, Tourism, Science and Technology, and Foreign Affairs; the Governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, the Chair of the Mindanao Development Authority, and two Filipino Muslim professionals who have experience in the halal industry. It should be noted that unless the duly designated alternates of the ex oficio members are Muslims, assured Muslim representation will only be up to three.
The new law also gave the task of halal accreditation to the Philippine Accreditation Bureau (PAB), without any provision ensuring that Muslims should be the majority in the body.
The insistence on predominant Muslim presence in the Halal Board and the PAB is not ethnocentricity. This is merely being true to the origin and goal of halal, which is primarily spiritual, and only secondarily, health- and financially-related. Integrity based on Islamic requirements is the essence of halal. Once spiritual integrity is achieved, the dietary and financial aspects follow. In the halal industry, the best people to ensure halal integrity are the Muslims themselves, in the same manner the Jews ensure the kosher quality of their food. Unavoidably, the determination of what is halal anywhere in the world, is an Islamic task of complying with Qur’anic, Sunnah and other fiqh requirements on the halal condition of products, and hence, should be provided by Muslim religious scholars who are trained on the requisites of halal.
Our present halal legal framework is now based on R.A. 10817. How successful will this legal framework be in promoting the Philippine halal industry here and abroad?
My humble opinion is the halal industry in the Philippines will not rise on the basis of its present legal framework. The focus of the new law on commercializing halal certification and product generation without the corresponding emphasis on its religious requirements will render our halal products uncompetitive in the global halal market. The saying that the spring does not rise higher than its source is applicable to our fledgling halal industry. If we want it to grow and prosper, we should strengthen it at its source. [Next in Ijtihad: Strengthening our Halal Industry]
PHILIPPINE MUSLIM TODAY