By Madelaine Miraflor
The deadly hog disease African Swine Fever (ASF) has managed to creep into Mindanao’s backyard farms despite the transport ban that some of the region’s province placed against meat coming from Luzon.
Over the weekend, it was confirmed that ASF started to kill pigs in Mindanao, particularly in Davao Occidental. Samples drawn from as much as 1,000 dead pigs in Don Marcelino town tested positive from the virus. Seven barangays in the adjacent town of Malita — Bito, Kidalapong, Tubalan, Felis, Mana, Talogoy, and New Argao — were also hit by ASF.
Secretary William Dar said the Department of Agriculture (DA) is now “on top of this ASF incidence” and has immediately issued directives to manage, contain, and control the disease and “stop it from spreading.”
DA’s Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) National Director Ronnie Domingo also instructed the Davao regional veterinary quarantine officers (VQOs) to extend full assistance in restricting animal movement following the 1-7-10 protocol in affected barangays.
This means that within one kilometer (km)-radius of infected farms, there would be quarantine checkpoints to prevent the movement of all live pigs, pork, and pork-related products, and that all pigs within the area must be culled.
For swine farms within the 7-km radius, the government must conduct surveillance procedures, test animals to determine the extent of the infection, and limit animal movement, while in farms within the 10-km radius, mandatory disease reporting is required.
ASF, a fatal animal disease among hogs, has been killing pigs around Asia since 2018. In the Philippines, the virus was detected only in August last year and had so far spread to several areas in Luzon, including Rizal, Bulacan, Quezon City, Pampanga, Antipolo, and Pangasinan.
As part of the measures, Domingo instructed other regional VQOs in Mindanao to strictly enforce quarantine procedures and monitor animal movement.
Dar ordered BAI’s regional VQOs to conduct “trace-back” and “trace-forward” investigations, particularly in areas where Don Marcelino actively trades with like the towns of Malita, Santa Maria, Jose Abad Santos, all in Davao Occidental and Sulop, in Davao Del Sur.
He also directed all concerned DA offices to extend technical assistance to affected hog raisers, ensure food safety at all times, and strictly enforce the 1-7-10 protocol.
The government is now identifying the disposal sites for culled hogs and conducting an inventory of the total swine population in affected areas.
Dar called for stronger cooperation among hog raisers and traders to stop the transport and sale of live hogs, and pork products from suspected areas.
Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) Chair Emmanuel Piñol, who previously served as the country’s Agriculture Secretary, said he is now personally assessing the situation.
“The Department of Agriculture Region XI has confirmed the outbreak. How and why the ASF got to the remote town could not yet be answered. Having been involved in the containment of the Avian Influenza in Central Luzon in 2017, the questions ‘How’ and ‘Why’ could be addressed later. This is also not the time to play the blame game,” said Piñol.
“What needs to be done now is to contain the spread of the disease by immediately implementing quarantine measures. I am proceeding to the town to personally assess the situation,” he added.
The number of pigs that were culled and died in the Philippines due to ASF already rose from 70,000 sometime in October last year to more or less 190,000 as of this month, based on DA’s reports to the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
Dar said the estimated losses that the local hog industry has incurred due to ASF already rose to P4 billion since August.
As part of their efforts to prevent ASF from entering their borders, some provinces in Visayas and Mindanao like Bohol and Cebu already have existing bans on processed pork products coming from Luzon.
The Philippine Association of Meat Processors Inc. (PAMPI), the country’ largest group of meat processors, has been arguing that such transport bans are not based on science and will result in billions of losses to their industry.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate attributed the continued spread of the ASF to the “under control attitude” of the DA.
“What they did was to control the flow of information on ASF that would reach the public rather than strictly monitor and control the spread of the sources of the disease, locally and internationally,” he said.
He said the DA should have totally banned meat and processed meat products from ASF- contaminated countries months ago. (With Charissa Luci-Atienza)