Group hits gov't for 'lack of clear guidelines' on African swine fever

MANILA, Philippines – African swine fever (ASF), the disease that wreaked havoc in other countries and wiped out millions of pigs, has since reached Philippine shores.

Non-profit organization World Animal Protection (WAP) is not happy with how the government has responded to the ASF outbreak, so far.

Keeping the public in the dark, according to WAP, may prove even more dangerous and could cause the virus to spread at even more alarming rate.

The group urged the Philippine government to be transparent and come out with clear guidelines for local government units (LGUs).

"We are alarmed about how some hog raisers have disposed of the dead pigs, some throwing them [in] bodies of water. This shows how the government has not given clear guidelines and people are acting on their own," said Vince Cinchez of WAP in a briefing on Monday, September 23.

Kata Blaszak, WAP global farming advisor, noted that countries which were successful in containing ASF were transparent in their efforts.

She said countries like South Korea, Lithuania, and Belgium were successful in containing the highly contagious disease because their national governments were quick in disseminating information to the public. (READ: FAST FACTS: What is African swine fever?)

What has the government done?

Allocated funds. The Department of Agriculture (DA) has allotted a total of P82 million to control and contain ASF. A task force led by President Rodrigo Duterte was also formed to ensure that the funds will be used to enforce protocols and compensate affected hog raisers.

Raisers will be given at most P3,000 per culled pig.

However, WAP said the funds may not be enough to contain ASF, a disease that spreads fast and may take decades to completely eradicate.

Cinchez said the P82 million can be used as a startup fund, but additional funds from local governments which can be triggered during emergency situations may be needed.

"There should be clear guidelines, because it may be a waste of funds if not handled well," Cinchez said.

Moreover, he noted that hog raisers should be educated on how the P3,000 per culled pig will be used. Otherwise, it can just be considered funds to "feed communities."

Identified areas with ASF. There are currently 11 areas with confirmed cases of ASF. These are:

Rizal

Bulacan

Quezon City

While the government has identified areas with confirmed ASF cases, WAP claimed that LGUs, as well as nearby areas, are still ill-prepared.

Cinchez said there was friction between the Quezon City government and the DA, as the former declared an emergency on the matter.

"We need to recognize the concern of local governments.... [The DA] can tap the [Department of the Interior and Local Government] because it gives mandate to local units," he said.

"In the news, we saw that people do not know how to handle the dead pigs. Ideally the pigs should be buried," he added.

Beyond the affected barangays, WAP said the national government should also focus on other towns and educate them on how to manage ASF in case it reaches their territory.

Enforced protocols. The DA has implemented the "1-7-10" protocol in suspected areas.

Quarantine checkpoints are set up in areas within a 1-kilometer radius of farms possibly having cases of ASF. All pigs within the area are also culled.

Over 7,400 pigs have been culled in the affected areas.

Within a 7-kilometer radius, authorities conduct surveillance and limit any animal movement.

Meanwhile, farm owners within a 10-kilometer radius are required to report if they have pigs showing signs of the disease.

However, WAP said checkpoint personnel should be well-equipped with knowledge on how to handle the movement of pigs. Hog raisers should also be educated on how to properly handle and humanely kill affected pigs.

Banned imports. The Philippines has banned pork imports from ASF-hit countries. However, it seems that not all entry points are covered, according to WAP.

Cinchez said not all airports have foot baths and authorities appear lax on arriving passengers.

With overseas Filipinos coming back for the holidays, WAP urged the government to strictly inspect baggage and goods. – Rappler.com

Ralf Rivas

A sociologist by heart, a journalist by profession. Ralf is Rappler's business reporter, covering macroeconomy, government finance, companies, and agriculture.

image