Gov. Gwen Garcia has called on all local governments units (LGUs) across the country to join her in seeking the lifting of the policies imposed by the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) against local government units that are allegedly infected with African Swine Fever (ASF).
This, after she exposed that the BAI does not have the mandate to impose color-coding or culling policies because this power has already been devolved to the Sanguniang Panlalawigan or the legislative body of each province.
The governor also believes that the agency just purportedly added this mandate and posted it to its website to justify its decision in imposing color-coding schemes all over the country and go on killing pigs.
"I call on all the governors, all city mayors and municipal mayors, let us join hands here. Let us finally put an end to this ineffective policy of BAI, the very agency which also approves the importation of pork permits, if we are at all mindful of the welfare of our constituents, many of whom are raising hogs in their backyard in the hope of being able to meet expenses on a day-to-day operation." the governor said during a press conference in Tudela town, Camotes Islands on Thursday, June 8, 2023.
Following her exposè, the governor also announced that Cebu is ready to open its borders to other local government units in buying and selling of live hogs and other pork-related products and byproducts, including those coming from ASF-infected zones, as long as they adopt Cebu’s protocol and their local chief executives sign a memorandum of agreement with the Cebu Provincial Government.
Among the conditions to be met is for them to adopt the same animal welfare policies and strict biosecurity measures that Cebu Province is implementing, as this has been proven effective in containing the spread of swine diseases, including ASF.
“Cebu is ready to open its ports and airport to all local chief executives regardless of whether they have been colored red or pink, especially if they have been colored red or pink, for as long as we shall enter into a memorandum of agreement where amongst others, our own protocols in protecting our hog industry be adopted as well in the respective local government units of these local chief executives,” Garcia said.
“And I am also issuing this to all our local government chief executives in Luzon and Mindanao, the only thing I asked is they would adopt the same measure that we are now implementing here in Cebu because this has been proven as indeed effective in protecting our hog industry, our local hog industry,” Garcia said.
BAI imposed a scheme that assigns colors for LGUs according to their ASF risk categories and prescribes measures for the movement of swine products across the different colored zones. Under this scheme, a red tag is for an infected zone, while pink is the buffer zone, which refers to the areas immediately around the red zone.
It is BAI’s policy to cull all hogs within the 500-meter radius of an LGU tagged as red zone, a colored that was assigned to Cebu Province since March 2023.
However, Atty. Donato Villa, Provincial Legal Officer, explained that under Executive Order 292 which was issued on July 25, 1987, BAI’s mandate does not include “prevention, control and eradication of animal diseases”, such as the imposition of color-coding and culling of pigs. He said BAI just added on this phrase and posted it on their website but this does not exist in the original law.
Governor Garcia believes that BAI did this to justify the imposition of their policies among LGUs.
"I hope that you have seen what we have presented here. BAI has no mandate to define the policies for the prevention of animal diseases. That mandate is vested upon the Sanggunian Panlalawigan. And for a long long time the culling policy of the BAI and the color coding policy of the BAI has severely affected our local economies," she added.
Since BAI declared Cebu as a red zone, Governor Garcia refused to follow their policy and objected to the further culling of pigs in Carcar City and other areas around it.
LIFT THE COLOR-CODING
During the press conference, Garcia and the local officials in Cebu who joined her urged BAI to lift its ASF color coding not only in Cebu but also in other parts of the country as this is already affecting the local backyard hog raisers in the province, particularly in Camotes Island.
“Redeem yourselves! It's been three months. Kindly lift your color coding of Cebu. In fact, your color coding of the entire country because you do not have the authority to do so. You do not have that mandate, Bureau of Animal Industry,” Governor Garcia said.
The mayors of Pilar, Poro, San Francisco and Tudela towns of the Camotes Islands joined in the call.
In a manifesto, the mayors appealed to Petilla and Torres-Gomez to open their borders and markets to the hogs and hog products from the Camotes Islands because their live pigs are no longer accepted by their neighboring areas such as Ormoc City, their biggest market.
Transporting their hogs to mainland Cebu costs more, and the mainland also has an oversupply of live hogs.
The mayors assured that the Camotes Islands have never had a documented case of ASF.
“Since February 28, not a single, as what our livestock growers said, not one died of ASF,” Solante said.
“Sakit kaayo paminawon nga dako kaayo ni nga epekto sa amoa kay nindot man gud unta kay didto ta sa Ormoc modawat og volume. Unya kun magsalig lang ta sa local market, aw swerte lang ta if kada adlaw naay fiesta mahalin gyud atong baboy. Unya ang pait pud ani gawas sa mahal ang feeds, og madugay ang baboy nga dili mahalin mamenus ang presyo,” said Poro town Mayor Edgar Rama.
The call was seconded by the president of the League of Municipalities of the Philippines (LMP) Cebu Chapter, Daanbantayan Mayor Sun Shimura, who will file a resolution with the league to convince the LGUs across the country to support Cebu in having the BAI lift its restrictions.
Last April, Central Visayas Pork Producers Cooperative president Jonathan Young said that since 2019, when the first ASF cases were detected in the country, at least five million hogs had been culled, but only 20 percent were actually infected, putting around four million hogs to waste.
Cebu Province previously imposed a ban on the entry of live hogs and pork products from Luzon and some parts of Visayas and Mindanao with confirmed cases of ASF, to protect the P11-billion hog industry of the province. The recent was the executive order Garcia issued imposing a 60-day ban on the entry of live hogs and pork-related products from Negros Island.
Protocols include a strict monitoring of all backyard hog raisers, regular disinfection, regular reports upon the manifestation of symptoms of the sick pig, and immediate isolation to protect the other swine.
Garcia said that since the implementation of these protocols, there have been no massive deaths recorded in the province.
As of June 7, provincial veterinarian Dr. Mary Rose Vincoy said there are only 64 pigs that manifested symptoms of swine infection out of the 616,930 total swine population in the entire province.
“We have very very simple protocols, and these protocols have been proven effective. As I said what has happened here in Cebu where there are no massive deaths even if I had refused the culling policy of BAI.”
The governor said that since March 1, 2023, when pigs in a slaughterhouse in Carcar City tested positive for ASF, Cebu had no reported massive hog deaths, contradicting the BAI’s earlier projections that it would take only weeks for hogs in infected areas to die in large quantities.
“What has happened here in Cebu has now become an embarrassment for Bureau of Animal Industry because they cannot answer me. Now I am seriously beginning to question if in fact ASF were really that deadly,” Garcia said.
Last March 29, Garcia sued five DA and BAI officials before the Office of the Ombudsman Visayas over their policy against ASF that had healthy pigs culled, saying it caused harm to Cebu’s economy. ##