Political will gets tested in the fight against ASF

“Importante kaan dai sinda magpalaog. Kadakol pa man ning source ning karne. Manok, karbaw, igwa pa man ning alternative. Su supply nita, ‘pag ‘yan talaga nahawaan, magiging zero ang population.”

So said hog raiser Carla Zafe in last February, some eight months before the dreaded African Swine Fever began affecting the local swine population.

Her biggest fear has just been realized, confirmed by laboratory results released by the Department of Agriculture’s Regional Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory which examined 40 samples taken from blood and tissues of suspected ASF-stricken pigs in San Andres,Viga, Virac, San Miguel and Bato.

In late February, just before then Acting Governor Shirley Abundo issued a temporary total ban on the entry into the island of live pigs, pork and pork products, Zafe had sent a letter to the Capitol urging the strict implementation of such a ban.

“Ta sa ibang lugar talaga, ‘pag tigtalam na totally, daing makalaog, daing ano. Kung ano ang supply diyan, ‘yan ang aanhon ta,” she said then.

For a while, that wish became true. Municipalities put up checkpoints at their borders while the ports of entries were kept under close watch, leading to the seizure of hundreds or thousands of kilos of hot meat and meat products.

Then, Malacanang imposed a national community quarantine to control the spread of the coronavirus disease.

In an instant, the ASF checkpoints disappeared, replaced by similarly-manned checkpoints to intercept violators of lockdowns, curfews and health protocols.

Perhaps emboldened by the new focus of the LGUs, unscrupulous swine traders and butchers began smuggling in virus-carrying pigs from Camarines Sur, at times renting motorized bancas from barangay captains and using their clout with local politicians to pass through COVID checkpoints.

“Nakaisi na kaini si mayor” was the common password, it is claimed, as the chief executive’s name was bandied about most likely without his knowledge.

As a capitol official admitted during the meeting with DA regional officials last week, LGUs from the province down to the barangays should have implemented better border controls as Catanduanes is an island.

“We relaxed a bit in border control,” he said in reassuring that the LGUs would work to prevent ASF from spreading beyond the five infected towns.

That reassurance must now be backed with concrete action by local officials.

As explained by DA Regional Technical Director for Research and Regulatory Services Edgar Madrid, the LGUs should activate their respective Quick Response Teams, establish checkpoints at the entry and exit points of infected areas, inventory swine raisers and their hog population, identify a burial site inside the infection zone, conduct surveillance and monitoring in the quarantine zones as well as disinfection of pig pens, depopulate or cull health or sick pigs within the 500-meter radius of the ground zero, and conduct a massive information dissemination in the barangays.

Whether any of the five LGUs in the DA’s ASF-infected list or the other six ASF-free towns have done at least the first three steps remains to be seen. As the provincial veterinarian underscored during the meeting with Virac local officials, this is a test of our leaders’ political will.

What is certain at this time is that, holiday or not, this is not the time to relax, eat and be merry while the ASF virus keeps spreading until, God forbid, all the estimated 16,000 pigs in the island are dead or dying.

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