SOME QUARTERS ARE CLAIMING that, despite the DA regional office’s initial findings, signs of ASF infection in the local hog population began showing up before the trio of storms slammed Catanduanes beginning Oct. 25, 2020.
A ranking official of the Department of Agriculture (DA) has pinned the blame on recent typhoons that struck Catanduanes and the subsequent relief effort for the entry of the African Swine Fever (ASF) into the island.
In an urgent virtual meeting with the Provincial ASF Task Force at the capitol last Friday (Dec. 18, 2020), DA Regional Technical Director for Research and Regulatory Services Edgar Madrid stated that based on their initial observation, the outbreak of the untreatable viral disease among pigs in the five towns of San Andres, Virac, Viga, Bato and San Miguel is the effect of typhoon Rolly.
“I believe that some of the virus carriers were the personnel who delivered food and other assistance for typhoon victims,” he claimed. “It did not pass inspection as we did not want to hamper the delivery of relief goods.”
“Merong mga pumupunta diyan na mga transport vehicles, and the visitors themselves,” Madrid added, noting that no disinfection was done on incoming vehicles.
Local officials, however, are convinced that the ASF virus was brought in weeks before the three typhoons affected the island beginning Oct. 25, 2020.
In a meeting with Virac local officials, Provincial Veterinarian Dr. Jane Rubio disclosed that swine began dying in Simamla, Buyo, Tubaon and even as far as the Dugui barangays in Virac even before the typhoons hit but the incidents were not promptly reported.
It may be recalled that in late February 2020, then Acting Governor Shirley Abundo declared a temporary total ban on the importation of live hogs, pork and all pork products into Catanduanes amidst an ASF outbreak in Camarines Sur.
Barangay ASF task forces were created particularly in coastal areas, with the Philippine Coast Guard conducting patrols, and 24/7 checkpoints were established along Virac’s borders.
Several apprehensions of hot meat, including a truckload of pork products brought in by a cargo ship, were made at the time.
However, when most of the country was placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) due to the coronavirus pandemic, the checkpoints disappeared and were replaced by ones manned entirely by armed government personnel and intended to deter violators of quarantine protocols.
During the next eight months, according to informed sources, Virac became the destination of hogs imported from Camarines Sur and brought via motorized bancas to drop-off points along the coastline from San Andres to Caramoran and Pandan.
While in one case, a municipal mayor ordered one shipment of live pigs brought back to the mainland, the order may not have been obeyed as the hogs were on board a motorized banca rented from the barangay captain of the coastal village where it was intercepted.
In San Andres town, one suspected smuggler of mainland-sourced swine denied the allegation that he was keeping a stockyard for the purpose but some observers wondered why he had many good-sized hogs but only one breeder.
Several shipments were also transported from the northern towns to Virac and managed to pass through checkpoints, with the owners reportedly telling authorities that they already had clearance from the local chief executive.
The spread of the disease may have also been helped by the fact that meat vendors from Bato and San Miguel brought their hogs for slaughter and sale in the capital town.
It is also surmised that biosecurity measures were not adequately implemented in the breeding farms and backyard pens, with the virus inadvertently brought there by visiting animal technicians.