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DA ends culling in Pampanga towns

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said they completed yesterday the culling of approximately 500,000 poultry heads – chicken, quail, ducks and fighting cocks – in San Luis and nearby towns. File

MANILA, Philippines - Almost half a million heads of poultry have been culled in Pampanga since an outbreak of avian flu – the first in the country – was reported last week.

Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol said they completed yesterday the culling of approximately 500,000 poultry heads – chicken, quail, ducks and fighting cocks – in San Luis and nearby towns.

The procedure covered 29 farms within the one-kilometer “contained radius” and seven-kilometer “controlled radius,” including those whose owners had volunteered to have their animals culled.

The 48th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army sent 400 men to help the Department of Agriculture (DA) in the culling operations.

“After the culling operations are completed, biosecurity teams will disinfect the farms and wait for another 21 days before the next step of fielding sentinel birds in the area will be undertaken,” Pinol said.

The sentinel birds will be used to determine if there is still bird flu virus in the area.

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“If, after 35 days, the sentinel birds will not show any symptoms of the bird flu virus, the Bureau of Animal Industry will declare San Luis and the periphery as free of the virus,” he said.

Due to international protocol, however, farmers at ground zero would not be allowed to raise poultry for 90 days after their areas are declared safe.

After clearing San Luis, the DA would have to train its sights on Jaen and San Isidro in Nueva Ecija, where another avian flu outbreak had been detected.

“Our bio-security teams will now focus on Jaen and San Isidro and complete the cleanup operations. I am hoping and praying that Jaen and San Isidro would be the last of our bird flu problems,” Pinol said.

He stressed the ban on the shipment of poultry and poultry products from Luzon to the Visayas and Mindanao would only be lifted 21 days after the completion of cleanup and disinfection operations.

Drawing from its calamity fund, the DA will start distributing the P80 per poultry head compensation to farmers on Tuesday. 

“The amount will be the first in a series of releases to be made by government through the DA to cover the losses of the farmers. An estimated 300,000 birds will be covered by the first tranche of payment,” Pinol revealed.

The Department of Budget and Management has cleared the release of the calamity fund.

Aside from compensation, the department will also prepare grants and loans through the Agricultural Credit Policy Council (ACPC) for the livelihood recovery of farmers.

“The ACPC will provide P25,000 loan assistance under the SURE (survival and recovery) package to farmers faced with calamity situations,” Piñol said.

“P5,000 of this will be a grant while the P20,000 will be a loan with no collateral and no interest payable in two years. They can use this once they start to rebuild their farms,” he added.

The Department of Heath (DOH), for its part, said there is still no need to order additional anti-viral medicine Oseltamivir despite the spread of avian flu to Nueva Ecija.

DOH spokesman Eric Tayag said the 800,000 capsules of Oseltamivir in the department’s stocks are sufficient.

The DOH started stockpiling Oseltamivir in 1997 when the first case of avian flu (H5N1) was reported in Hong Kong.

But in 2013, the DOH met strong criticisms from some legislators after the Commission on Audit reported that millions of Oseltamivir had expired.

Under control

At Malacañang, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the government is on top of the situation despite the spread of the disease to two towns in Nueva Ecija.

“We are closely monitoring the situation in Nueva Ecija following the confirmation of poultry deaths in the province yesterday by the DA,”  Abella said.

“We ask our people to remain calm yet vigilant and to refrain from spreading unverified information that may cause undue alarm and panic. Our officials have been quick in their response, particularly in avian flu investigation and containment activities,” he added.

He said concerned agencies have established heightened surveillance protocols and tapped members of the community to contain the avian flu virus.

“They have likewise established advance command posts in San Nicolas, Pampanga and San Isidro, Nueva Ecija with capacity to respond 24/7,” he added.

He also cited the help of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in containing the disease.

“Our health officers have trained AFP personnel and have provided personal protective equipment and prophylaxis medicine (Tamiflu), good for 10 days for soldiers who would do the culling,” he said.

He also stressed the disease has not yet affected humans. “As of this time, there has been no report – again, there has been no report of bird-to-human contamination in the Philippines. We reiterate that bird flu is transferred via respiratory routes. Properly cooked chicken meat and eggs remain safe to eat,” he said.

In a statement read over state run Radyo Pilipinas by China Jocson, assistant to the presidential spokesman, Malacañang also appealed for sobriety among the people to avoid undue alarm and panic.

Close monitoring

Meanwhile, former president and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said she is closely monitoring the bird flu situation in her province and neighboring areas.

“My office is closely monitoring the issue involving the bird flu virus in some barangays in San Luis, Pampanga,” she said in a statement yesterday.

“While the outbreak does not affect my district, I have been closely coordinating with local chief executives in my district who have poultry farms in their areas to implement precautionary measures to ensure that their livestock remain free of the virus,” she said.

She said she is also coordinating with officials of the province and concerned government agencies.

“I call on the DA to conduct a thorough investigation to determine the source of the infection to prevent the occurrence of another outbreak in the future,” she added.  –  With Christina Mendez, Jess Diaz, Ric Sapnu, Sheila Crisostomo

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