Fearing big loss, Payatas hog raisers refuse to surrender livestock

MANILA, Philippines – On the morning of Friday, September 20, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte doubled down on illegal hog raisers after 8 pig blood samples tested positive for African swine fever (ASF) in two barangays.

After this confirmation from the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Bureau of Animal Industry, Belmonte asked held hog raisers in Barangay Payatas, one of the two ASF-infected areas, to surrender their pigs for P3,000 each.

Belmonte has allocated P10 million for this financial assistance program.

But hog raisers said they regularly sold full-grown pigs for P8,000 to P9,000, so they would suffer a minimum loss of P5,000 per pig if they were to surrender them.

However, culling all pigs within a one-kilometer radius of the infected piggeries is an essential part of the containment procedure. Belmonte said that Agriculture Secretary William Dar had turned over the containment operations in Quezon City to the city government, which means they would be implementing the 1-7-10 protocol.

The 1-7-10 protocol involves setting up quarantine checkpoints within a one-kilometer radius of ASF-ridden farms, as well as culling of all pigs in the area. Authorities will also conduct surveillance and limit animal movement within a 7-kilometer radius. Lastly, hog raisers within a 10-kilometer radius are to report pigs showing signs of ASF.

Aside from the P3,000 financial assistance, Belmonte said she was open to providing aid in the form of scholarships, medical, and livelihood assistance. Belmonte said that backyard piggery owners could receive the financial assistance within 3 days of surrendering their pigs.

But Charissa, a backyard hog raiser, expressed doub this promise would be fulfilled, claiming that some of her neighbors had already surrendered their pigs but had yet to receive the money. She also said that the P10 million budget wouldn't be able to cover all the hog raisers, especially those who only have a few pigs in stock.

Payatas is home to many illegal hog raisers, including its barangay captain Manny Guarin, who has 300 pigs.

According to Guarin, there are around 1,500-2,000 pigs in Payatas. If the city government were to give P3,000 for each pig surrendered in Payatas, the minimum of 1,500 pigs would already amount to P4.5 million, which is already almost half of the P10-million budget.

Meanwhile, the other ASF-infected area, Barangay Bagong Silangan, has 909 heads as of latest count. This amounts to another P2.73 million, leaving only P2.77 million for other possible ASF-infected areas in the city.

Charissa's parents have been engaged in the livestock business since she was a child, and she still helps out in their piggery. This livelihood sustains 7 of them: her two parents, their 3 children, and their two grandchildren.

She claims that although piggeries are illegal in Quezon City, theirs has a permit issued by the barangay, for their own captain has the biggest piggery of them all.

"Dapat kung talagang surrender, ipakita niya na lahat ng babuyan, siya unang mag-surrender bilang siya ang aming leader," she said.

(If we're supposed to surrender, then he should show the piggeries, he should be the first to surrender since he is our leader.)

Because Guarin has 300 pigs, Belmonte requested, "as a sign of leadership and as a sign of cooperation with the city government," that Guarin waive the P900,000 that would be given to him in favor of the small-time hog raisers who would not be able to receive financial assistance because of the limited funds.

During the assembly, Belmonte agitatedly addressed the leaders of groups Payatas Hog Raisers and Livestock Cooperative, saying that they fooled her into thinking that Payatas was ASF-free when it wasn't.

"Sana 'wag naman ninyong iisipin lagi ang sarili lang ninyong kikitain. Isipin naman ninyo na maraming maaaring madamay sa inyong pagiging makasarili," she said to the cooperatives' leaders.

(I hope you will stop thinking of just your own income. Think of the others who might be endangered because of your selfishness.)

But Charissa, whose family's piggery is located in their house's backyard, does not want to surrender their pigs because she believes they should be tested for the sickness first.

"Kami, papaano namin masasabing ibibigay namin sa kanila 'yung baboy namin kung wala namang sakit? Walang sakit, malinis naman. Hindi pa nila napapatunayan. Hindi po ba dapat procedure lang, dapat pinoproseso nila? Kunan nila ng sample, and then pag nag-positive, 'tsaka kunin," she said. 

(Why would we surrender the pigs if they are not sick? They don't exhibit any symptoms. They haven't tested them yet. They should follow procedure and process them, right? Take their blood sample, and if they test positive, that's when they should be taken.)

Charissa believes this would be better than calling for the surrender of all pigs, expressing concern for those whose piggeries are their only means of income. 

"Ang kabuhayan lang namin nasa babuyan lang. Pagkain araw-araw, pati sa pag-aaral, or iba pang kakailangan, sa baboy lang umaasa. Parang kinukuhanan na rin kami ng karapatan at kinukuhanan na rin kami ng pamumuhay," she said.

(The only livelihood is in the piggery. For food every day, education, other needs, we rely on the pigs we sell. It's like you are taking away our rights, and you are taking away our means of living.)

She said the assistance would not cover for one month of her family's needs, if P3,000 were provided for each of their 10 pigs. One female pig would be able to sustain Charissa's family for one and a half months if sold at the right price. 

'Hindi payapa'

Belmonte said they weren't able to mark ASF-infected areas in Payatas because hog raisers in the area weren't as proactive in reporting pig deaths as those in Bagong Silangan.

"Ang Bagong Silangan nagre-report kaagad sa amin. Kaya agad-agad nakakakilos diyan. Dito sa Barangay Payatas hindi kayo nagre-report, mga pasaway kayo, sorry to say," she said. 

(Bagong Silangan makes it a point to report to us immediately. That's why we're able to address the problem quickly. Here in Barangay Payatas, you don't report. You're stubborn, sorry to say.)

Only 3 hog raisers in Payatas reported that their pigs were dying, specifically from Lupang Pangako and Payatas B. Thus, they were included in the first batch of those who were given financial assistance.

"Kahit masabi ninyong [lugi] 'yun, mabuti na 'yung P3,000 kaysa sa patay na baboy na wala nang halaga sa lipunan, wala nang makakakain nun, tapos illilibing pa ninyo. Kasi kung itinapon ninyo sa creek, idedemanda ko kayo. At kung itakas ninyo, idedemanda ko rin kayo," Belmonte said.

(Even though it will be less than your profit, it's better than a dead pig that no one will benefit from and that you'll also have to bury. If you throw it in the creek, we will apprehend you. If you take them out of the infected areas, we will apprehend you.)

One hog raiser, who wished to be identified as "Kapitbahay," justified the lack of proactiveness on their part, saying that the P3,000 rate per head was too much of a loss. 

"Napakalayo ng agwat ng pagkakaiba. Isu-surrender ko 'yung P3,000, ang timbang ng baboy ko 100 kilo? Ang sinasabi ni Mayor na bakit hindi ako nagmagandang loob na sabihin ang baboy ko? Eh ang baboy ko walang sakit. Pangalawa, wala silang sinasabi na babayaran ko sa tamang halaga 'yan. Ang malinaw na sinabi sa dyaryo, sa TV, kung saan-saan, 3000, kaya nanahimik kami dito sa Payatas," he said.

(The difference is too great. Why would I surrender my pig that weighs 100 kilos for only P3,000? Mayor Belmonte asked why we didn't have the initiative to surrender our pigs. First, my pigs don't have the sickness. Second, they are not providing a fair price. Reports say the rate is only P3,000, that's why we stayed quiet in Payatas.)

Rationalizing the rate, Belmonte said that she is only following the DA's lead with regard to their assistance in Rizal and Bulacan, the first areas in the Philippines to be hit by the disease.

Further, she said that the previous administration allotted the budget the city government has now, and so any extra funds for unexpected circumstances like this epidemic are scarce. She said that the DA did not give them any funds, so P10 million is all she can afford to allocate. 

But Kapitbahay maintained that P3,000 is simply too much of a loss. 

"Kung isang daang kilo kapares ng baboy ko, bayaran man lang kahit 40% lang nun, hindi tatlong libo. 'Yung tatlong libo, panloloko po 'yun na malinaw. Hindi ko naman sinabi nanloloko si Mayor, hindi po. Ang presyo po ang lokohan," he said.

(If my pig weighs 100 kilos, it should at least be paid for 40% of its worth, not just P3,000. That's just dishonesty. I'm not saying the mayor is being dishonest. The price is dishonest.)

Because of this, Kapitbahay has opted to cull his pigs without surrendering them. 

"Kaysa bayaran ng P3,000, masyado namang masakit doon sa dibdib po. Dapat 'ho pinayapa nila 'yung takot ng mga taga-rito, sabihin man lang nila babayaran namin 'yan sa tamang halaga, at hindi P3,000 na ang timbang 80 kilos. Hindi po ako magsusurrender. Magdedesisyon ako ng pasulong hindi paurong," he said.

(P3,000 does not sit well with me. They should have placated the fear of Payatas residents and said they will be paid fairly for their pigs, not P3000 for a pig that weighs 80 kilos. I will not surrender. I will move forward, not backward.) – Rappler.com

Loreben Tuquero

Loreben Tuquero is a researcher-writer for Rappler. Before transferring to Rappler's Research team, she covered transportation, Quezon City, and the Department of the Interior and Local Government as a reporter. She graduated with a communication degree from the Ateneo de Manila University.