ASF task force asked to lift ban on entry of pork, pork products

With the African Swine Fever (ASF) now affecting all but one of the 11 towns in Catanduanes, the Office of the Provincial Veterinarian has asked the Provincial ASF Task Force to lift the ban on the entry of pork and pork products into the island.

Dr. Jane C. Rubio made the verbal recommendation near the conclusion of the task force’s meeting presided over by Acting Governor Shirley A. Abundo last Feb. 3, 2021 at the conference room of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan.

Majority of the members present, however, were against the suggestion, with Vice Gov. Abundo deciding to leave the matter to the discretion of Governor Joseph C. Cua when he returns to the island this week from his 14-day isolation at the Cardinal Santos Hospital due to COVID-19.

Dr. Rubio had told the task force that the national government has allowed the importation of ASF-free pork and pork products and its shipment to the provinces, provided the shippers have secured permits from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the National Meat Inspection Service (NMIS).

She noted that with 1,382 hogs killed and buried in a series of depopulation activities in several towns infected by ASF, there is now lack of supply of pork in the province, with prices now hovering at P250 per kilo in the capital town of Virac.

Allowing shipments of pork and pork products from Metro Manila would be counter-productive, some task force members said, as it would likely encourage local meat distributors to turn to smuggling in pigs from ASF-infected mainland provinces through unguarded coastal barangays in Catanduanes.

It would spread the virus even more, they stressed, and delay the rehabilitation and recovery of the local hog raising industry now reeling from the epidemic.

Earlier during the meeting, Dr. Rubio reported that only two towns – Pandan and Bagamanoc – remained free of ASF following the submission of blood samples that tested negative at the DA’s Regional Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory.

She said that samples from Pandan that tested negative came from pigs that had clinical symptoms of ASF so another set of blood samples were collected to make sure the result was not a false negative.

(A few days after the meeting, samples from Tabugoc and Lumabao reportedly tested positive for ASF, leaving Bagamanoc as the only town free of the infection.)

As of Feb. 1, 2021, municipal ASF task forces have depopulated a total of 1,382 heads of swine in Baras (235 heads), Bato (275), Caramoran (29), Gigmoto (91), Panganiban (46), San Andres (377), San Miguel (84), and Virac (245).

As of the same date, 40 of the 43 tissue or blood samples sent to RADDL have tested positive, prompting local government units to initiate depopulation within the 500-meter radius from the infection epicenter.

The provincial veterinarian, however, told the vice governor and the task force members that barangay officials and backyard raisers in Dariao, Caramoran and in Mayngaway, San Andres resisted the depopulation.

Dr. Rubio bared that the hog raisers informed the LGU task force that they would rather wait for their pigs to die of the virus than see them stunned and then buried.

“I don’t know why the LGU failed to convince them to agree to depopulation,” she averred, as she expressed fear that the virus will spread even more if depopulation is delayed especially if the remaining hogs are slaughtered for human consumption.

When queried as whether resisting depopulation is allowed, the veterinarian replied, “Hindi po dapat.”

This prompted the representative of the Catanduanes police to propose that administrative cases be filed against the barangay chairmen involved for violating the law.

It was also suggested that the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) issue directives to barangay councils to comply with the DA’s depopulation order as carried out by the municipal ASF task forces.

Dr. Rubio disclosed that the resistance in some barangays is partly due to the fact that only backyard raisers with 20 heads or below are entitled to the compensation of P5,000 per head after depopulation.

Some of the commercial or semi-commercial swine raisers have sows, breeders or fatterners which are 80 kilos and above in weight and thus valued at more than P10,000 each.

“Malulugi sila,” she said, adding that the barangay captains are advising them to slaughter those worth more than P5,000, leaving piglets behind or bringing them out of the quarantine zone.

On the other hand, the provincial veterinarian told the task force that payment of the compensation is hampered by the lack of proper orientation by the DA regional office, indicating that the latter went direct to the LGUs instead of passing through her office which she claimed has direct supervision over the MAOs as far as ASF is concerned.

She claimed that it is only now that the requirements for the depopulation compensation are being prepared as some LGUs failed to observe proper procedures.

“Naghahabol sila ngayon at nagsisisihan,” Rubio alleged. “Wala pa pong nababayaran, inaayos pa ang mga papeles pero may pera naman po ang DA.”

For its part, the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Office noted that the backdoor entry of pigs through the ports and western coastal barangays cannot be controlled due to lack of personnel.

It also pointed out that as depopulation is not mandatory, it has instead become an aggravating factor, with swine within infected zones taken out to nearby villages and potentially spreading the virus.

The PDRRMO representative likewise bewailed the lack of organized structure for the ASF task force that would clearly define the roles and responsibilities of the member agencies and called for a revised executive order addressing the problem and creating the equivalent of the COVID-19 task force’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and Incident Management Team (IMT).

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