By Madelaine B.Miraflor
Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG), one of the strongest agriculture lobby groups in the Philippines, is threatening to sue government officials who might be responsible for the delayed action on the deadly swine disease African swine fever (ASF).
This was specified in a letter that SINAG sent to Senator Cynthia Villar, who currently chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture.
In the letter, SINAG Chair Rosendo So requested Villar to look into reports that abnormal mortality of pigs in Rodriguez, Rizal actually started in June and July, not in August when the first suspected cases of ASF have been officially reported.
According to So, there has been persistent reports in the communities within and around ground zero in Rodriguez, one of the areas in the Philippines with confirmed cases of ASF, that abnormal mortality of pigs have actually started since June.
At that time, the DA was still under the leadership of Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol, who was already preparing then to turn over his position to his successor, William Dar.
“Through this letter, we would like to request the Senate Committee on Agriculture to look into these reports and if found credible, recommend the filing of appropriate charges against those government officials for abdicating their duty to protect the hog industry,” So said.
“We view these inaction as economic sabotage for maliciously wanting to destroy the hog industry,” he added.
So also said that had the reports been acted upon officially at that time through quarantine measures and preventive actions from concerned agencies, the threat of the ASF could have been contained at the onset.
ASF, fatal animal disease affecting pigs and wild boars with up to 100 percent case fatality rate, was only detected in the Philippines a few weeks ago, but there are concerns that it could further drag the P260-billion local hog industry, which is largely composed of small scale backyard raisers or those who can’t afford to implement strict biosecurity measures on their operations.
According to Dar, the government had so far culled more than 15,000 pigs to prevent ASF from spreading, though the actual number of hog deaths in the country due to the virus has not really been revealed yet.
There are now 12 confirmed areas in the Philippines that were hit by ASF.
ASF can’t infect humans and is not considered a food safety risk, but the decline in pork production could be a huge blow to the largely pork-eating country that is the Philippines, the 10th largest pork consumer in the world.
While some local producers are saying that the country is actually self-sufficient in pork, raising 12 million to 13 million pigs annually, another data shows that the Philippines is also considered as the seventh-largest importer of pork in the world.
Just this week, Dar officially started a blame game against Piñol when he said the latter failed to report or act on the alleged ASF cases in the country that surfaced as early as May.
“As early as May, they said there have been observations [of ASF cases],” Dar said. “They did not even report in early July that there have been observations.”
Piñol, of course, responded and said he “could not believe that the touted agriculture expert would go to the extent of engaging in a blame game to rationalize the apparent difficulty he encounters in addressing a crisis situation.”
“I do not know Sec. Dar’s management style but I’ll never embarrass my fellow workers in public. I am still making that same commitment today even if he has offended me with his irresponsible accusations and childish actuations of looking for people to blame in the face of crisis,” said Piñol, who is now the chair of Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA).