Officials in mud fight over African swine fever outbreak

Louise Maureen Simeon - Philstar.com
Officials in mud fight over African swine fever outbreak
In this file photo, backyard-grown pigs roam a community along the Kaliwa River in Quezon province. The DA has confirmed ASF cases in parts of Rizal, Bulacan and Quezon City

MANILA, Philippines — Trouble could be brewing between two Cabinet secretaries as cases of African swine fever, which allegedly first appeared in May but was kept from the public, continue to rise.

Agriculture Secretary William Dar and Mindanao Development Authority chair Emmanuel Piñol, former Agriculture chief, seem ready to drag each other through the mud over the ASF outbreak.

"Even as early as May, they said there have been observations but I don't know whether they just elevated the preventive and quarantine measures," Dar said.

"They did not even report [that in early July] there have been observations. I knew there were observations that there is ASF in the country. I just don't see the documents by the DA," he added.

While the DA did not report any incident of ASF in May, there have been confiscations of meat and processed meat products from countries covered by a ban on pork imports.

It was also in May when an overseas Filipino worker from Hong Kong managed to get back 32 cans of meat products that the Bureau of Customs had confiscated.

READ: DA to track down African swine fever quarantine violator

Following Dar’s statements, Piñol fired back and said he was disappointed by the accusation from a fellow member of the Cabinet.

"I 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," Piñol said.

"I do not know Secretary Dar's management style but I 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," he added.

Piñol: No report of swine fever from BAI

The former Agriculture chief has clarified that the Bureau of Animal Industry had not recorded or reported to the World Animal Health Organisation any incidence of ASF outbreak in May, June or July.

Piñol said that claims that there were ASF cases in May shows a lack of knowledge about the virus that causes the disease.

"Experts say that the incubation period of the ASF virus is between four to 19 days and it could decimate a hog population in 48 to 72 hours. This means that if, indeed, the ASF was already present in the country in May, by August when Secretary Dar took over the DA, it should have already wiped out the hog population among backyard farmers in Central Luzon," Piñol said.

He also defended the quarantine teams whom he said worked round-the-clock at the country's airports and sea ports to watch for potentially contaminated pork products.

"As a touted agriculture expert, Secretary Dar should have prepared for the problems he expected to encounter before he assumed office following my resignation as DA secretary on June 26," Piñol said.

RELATED: Piñol offers to quit as Agri chief, open to reappointment to MinDA

"A good crisis manager should have already prepared a plan of action to handle the expected challenges but Secretary Dar was more concerned with identifying 'Piñol's People' and dressing down officials in public," he claimed.

SINAG: Quarantine protocols should have been in place since July

For its part, the Samahang Industriya sa Agrikultura maintained that the abnormal mortality of pigs around ground zero has been reported as early as July, and that quarantine protocols and preventive measures should have been put in place since then.

The group has already called on the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food to conduct an investigation into the matter.

"We want to validate these reports and if these officials are found liable, we will waste no time in charging them for abdicating their duty in protecting the hog industry and our local agriculture in general," SINAG chair Rosendo So said.

"This is economic sabotage for the P416-billion hog sector and a host of  allied industries that rely on it," he added.

The DA has reported another case of ASF in an unnamed barangay in Antipolo, bringing to 12 the total number of sites that tested positive for ASF.

It was the second area in Antipolo and the 12th nationwide to test positive for ASF.

The other barangays are San Isidro, San Jose, Macabud, Geronimo, San Rafael and Mascap in Rodriguez; San Mateo in Rizal; Barangay Cupang in Antipolo; Barangay Pritil in Guiguinto, Bulacan; and Barangay Bagong Silangan and Payatas in Quezon City.






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