DA to start paying farm owners affected by bird flu outbreak

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Agriculture (DA) will begin paying farm owners affected by the avian influenza or bird flu outbreak in Pampanga starting next week.

This was announced by Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol on Thursday, August 17, in an interview with reporters in Manila. Piñol visited Pampanga for the 3rd time since his department announced the outbreak last August 11.

"We will start paying next week. In fact we're ready with about P8 million by next week. As early as Tuesday or Wednesday, we'll start paying. We will download the money to Region III. Ang unang babayaran 'yung unang na-depopulate na farms (We will pay first those whose farms were depopulated first)," he explained.

The government pegged the prices of birds as follows:

Piñol said he has already identified P31 million from the DA's existing Quick Response Fund (QRF) for the initial payment of affected farmers. (READ: MAP: Barangays near bird flu outbreak in Pampanga)

"Yesterday I was with the President and I briefed him of the development, and I told him that I will need about P100 million for the poultry industry of Pampanga to be able to recover fully and he pledged that he will support, he will help," the agriculture chief added.

The P100 million will come from the DA's QRF which is with the Department of Budget and Management (DBM).

"As soon as Secretary [Benjamin] Diokno returns, we will meet again so that he will be able to provide whatever else we need in Pampanga," Piñol said in a mix of English and Filipino, adding that Diokno is currently in Singapore.

With the help of 400 soldiers, the DA hopes to finish culling about 500,000 birds by Saturday, August 19. About 92,000 birds have already been culled as of Thursday.

The target number of birds to be culled decreased from 600,000 to 500,000 because some farm owners within the 7-km radius or the controlled area changed their mind and decided not to have their birds culled. Government only requires the culling of those birds within the 1-km radius or the contained area.

While some farm owners changed their minds, some also volunteered to have their birds culled because the payment from government is better than the farm gate price.

"Mayroong mga farms na nadagdag na voluntary nagpapa-cull. These are farms located within the 7-km radius and beyond patriotism, nakita kasi nila na mas advantageous na ipa-cull nila 'yung kanilang mga manok kasi right now bumagsak ang presyo sa palengke, P50 na lang per kilo, samantalang ang bayad ng gobyerno for culling their broiler chicken is P70," the agriculture chief explained.

(There are additional farms that volunteered their birds for culling. These are farms located within the 7-km radius and beyond patriotism, they saw that it is more advantageous to have their chickens culled because the market price went down to P50 per kilo, while government will pay P70 for culling their broiler chicken.)

According to Piñol, he doesn't think there will be a shortage of eggs by December because "we have enough time to be able to recover." 

"We may consider looking at importing eggs or importing chicks, importing poultry – we may, depending on how fast our poultry industry in Central Luzon recovers," he explained in a mix of English and Filipino, adding that Pampanga alone accounts for about 8% of the country's total broiler production.

Piñol asked for the understanding of the industries affected by the outbreak. (READ: DA: No reported animal-to-human transmission of bird flu yet in PH)

"I'm being pressured by egg producers, I'm being pressured by broiler raisers. I cannot yield to the pressure because you have to understand where I'm coming from. They can't suspect that I'm protecting anybody because I don't have a business. I'm just doing my job as secretary of agriculture in ensuring that the whole poultry industry will be protected," he said in a mix of English and Filipino. – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.