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MANILA, Philippines – President Benigno Aquino III has issued an executive order to contain the spread of the coconut pest outbreak that threatens the country’s coconut industry.
Signed on Thursday, June 5, Executive Order 169 puts the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) in charge of effectively controlling, managing, and eventually eradicating the pest, a type of coconut scale insect never before seen in the Philippines.
“It is an emergency measures declaration. It is serious that it can spread to the Bicol Region and if left unmanaged can lead up to annual losses of up to P33 billion. We have to move fast that is why we are endorsing a significant increase in our current efforts to stop the infestation. We have to defeat this pest immediately,” said Presidential Assistant on Food Security and Agriculture Modernization Francis Pangilinan.
Aspiodotus rigidus, dubbed the “Typhoon Yolanda of pests” by PCA officials and farmers, has so far killed more than one million trees in Calabarzon (Region IV-A). But the pest has been reported in other provinces, reaching as far as Mindanao. (READ: PH to lose P186M a year from coconut pest outbreak)
To stop the spread, EO 169 orders the declaration of quarantine in infested areas. Checkpoints and quarantine stations are to be established to prevent the transportation of unprocessed or untreated coconut parts, coconut seedlings, and other plants or fruits that can host the insect.
The PCA will have the sole power to issue Permits to Transport as long as “appropriate preventive measures, such as washing and spraying of appropriate chemicals” are observed.
The Bureau of Plant Industry will be in charge of establishing quarantine. BPI, which like the PCA is an agency under the Department of Agriculture, can deputize the PCA and Philippine National Police to apprehend those who violate quarantine measures. Infested plants in transit will be confiscated upon first offense.
On second offense, a fine of P1,000 will be imposed on the violator aside from confiscation of goods. On third offense, the violator pays P5,000.
Local government units (LGUs) have been put in charge of local eradication and control measures, including providing manpower and logistics to help the PCA and other national agencies. Barangays can recruit volunteers for a scale insect control action team and for a massive information campaign.
Around P400 million in PCA funds will be available in the next 3 months to provide treatment for over one million trees, according to Pangilinan.
The EO assigned other agencies to help PCA in stopping the outbreak. These agencies are:
- Office of the Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization
- Department of Agriculture
- Department of Science and Technology
- Department of the Interior and Local Government
- University of the Philippines in Los Baños
- National Crop Protection Center
The EO comes at a time when the PCA is missing an administrator. Euclides Forbes, the former administrator, resigned in May less than a week after Pangilinan’s appointment. The new position transferred 4 Department of Agriculture agencies, including the PCA, under the Office of the President.
With no new administrator named as of publishing, the job of controlling the outbreak falls on Pangilinan’s lap.
Pangilinan re-convened Task Force Sagip to synchronize efforts in managing the infestation.
So far, they are pursuing the following measures to control the outbreak:
- Cutting down heavily infested trees more than 60 meters in height
- Massive application of green label systemic pesticides which are injected into tree trunks
- Propagation of a wasp parasitoid that kills the scale insect by laying its eggs on it
- Propagation of coccinellid beetles that prey on the scale insect
- Deployment of fire trucks to spray detergent liquid in high-risk areas
The task force, with the help of LGUs, will also rehabilitate coconut plantations through fertilization and replanting.
Forbes apologized during a Senate hearing in May for his agency’s delay in addressing the coconut scale infestation.
First reported to PCA by Batangas farmers in 2010, it took 3 years before the PCA declared a quarantine in the Southern Luzon provinces of Batangas, Laguna, Cavite, and Quezon.
Aspiodotus rigidus is a formidable pest because the mother scale insect is able to protect its young by covering it with a wax tip. In a lifespan of 28 to 32 days, one female can lay thousands of eggs. What’s more, females can reproduce without males.
The insects are airborne, extending their reach even to island provinces. They kill coconut trees by covering and suffocating leaves, thereby stopping photosynthetic activity.
Infested trees have yellow, drooping leaves. The water inside the nuts turns sour. Eventually, the tree just withers away.
Coconut trees are not the only crops in danger. The scale insect is known to infest high-value crops like cacao, mangosteen, and coffee.
The coconut scale insect epidemic endangers the country’s $2 billion (P87.3 billion) industry, which provides livelihood to 3.5 million coconut farmers. – Rappler.com