Cebu News

If pig culling continues: Guv threatens charges vs DA-7

Robhe Jane C. Yara - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines —  Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia has threatened filing charges against the Department of Agriculture Central Visayas (DA-7) if the agency continues to conduct "culling" across suspected African Swine Fever (ASF) infected areas within Cebu Province.

It was after DA-7, through Dr. Daniel Ventura, the ASF coordinator, said they would stick to implementing the existing national policies in containing and eradicating the ASF, which includes culling the pigs, particularly in Carcar City Wednesday, March 15.

Carcar is the sole area placed in the infected or the red zone in the recent National Zoning Plan released by DA-7.

In a press conference Thursday, March 16, Garcia reiterated DA must consult the local government units (LGUs) concerned, particularly the Cebu Provincial Government, in implementing their measures under the Republic Act No. 7160 or the Local Government Code (LGC) of the Philippines.

Garcia cited several sections under the LGC, such as Sec.2 (C), Sec. 16, 25, 27 and Sec. 465, stressing the right of the LGU to intervene across any policies implemented by government agencies within their jurisdiction.

"We have to promote economic prosperity, not destroy it or even sit idly by while you will be promoting economic devastation with your culling of pigs healthy, healthy pigs," said Garcia.

"Give us due respect because you are operating within the territorial jurisdiction of the Province of Cebu. If you do not want to recognize the territorial jurisdiction of the Province of Cebu, then you start culling pigs outside of the municipal waters of the province, that's fifteen kilometers from the coastline. Adto didto you operate there, pangita'g baboy nga imong patyon but not within Cebu unless we give you prior approval," she added.

Atty. Donato Villa, officer-in-charge of the Provincial Legal Office, said the province could file charges of Abuse of Authority against the DA officials concerned following Section 465 of LGC, which states a governor can initiate administrative or judicial action against a national government official or employee who may have committed an offense in the performance of his official duties while stationed in or assigned to the province.

Garcia ordered earlier the halt of pig culling in Carcar, particularly within the reported three allegedly ASF heavily-infected barangays and their 500-meter radius.

She stressed that this should not have been the case, especially for healthy pigs, reiterating that only those infected ones should be culled, followed by contact tracing and strict monitoring of those pigs that previously had contact with the infected ones.

She also stood firm to stop conducting random indiscriminate testing of pigs in Cebu using the reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) method, adding that pigs in Carcar could have been infected with the common swine fever (CSF)) or hog cholera instead of ASF.

Both manifest almost the same symptoms, except that cholera becomes fatal in its most virulent form, said Garcia.

Dr. Mary Rose Vincoy, provincial veterinarian, said the province continues its research and study to come up with its own testing method for detecting both CSF and ASF.

At the time, Garcia mandated the 51 mayors in the province to conduct an inventory of their hogs to identify the number of healthy and ill pigs in their areas. Also, backyard hog raisers would now be required to create a record of their sick pigs and isolate them immediately.

Garcia said she would issue a memorandum to the Philippine National Police (PNP) to intervene and strengthen her order not to cull pigs should the DA insist on doing so.

Garcia will meet with the mayors again by next week, particularly with those under red (infected), pink (buffer), yellow (surveillance), and yellow-green (protected) zones to discuss further measures in battling the swine fever epidemic in Cebu.

Ban lifting welcomed

Meanwhile, Garcia has welcomed Negros Occidental reaching out, particularly its Governor Eugenio Jose Lacson, in lifting its ban on pork and pork products entering Cebu Province from Negros Island due to the threat of ASF but asking the latter to pursue his request "personally."

"We can talk without the media intervening. He can call me anytime," said Garcia.

Garcia expressed dismay at what she called an "aggressive approach" of the local government unit though not directing her disappointment to Lacson.

She said she understood that Negros Occidental has concerns and issues involving their constituents. But she reiterated that Cebu Province has no difference and emphasized that discussing these matters calmly and openly is the best solution.

"Above all, it's public service. And public service demands the welfare of our constituents mao nay atung unahun," said Garcia.

"It does not work if we throw brickbats at each other because how can I communicate with you? You are already angry at me," she added.

The commotion started when Dr. Placeda Lemana, the acting Provincial Veterinarian of Negros Occidental, defended that the province remained ASF-free right after the Cebu Province banned pig and pork products from Negros Island entering Cebu through an executive order from March 7 to April 5 last week.

This after pigs that allegedly came from Negros tested positive for the ASF virus.

Lemana pointed out that based on the National Zoning Plan released by the Department of Agriculture Central Visayas (DA-7), Occidental was placed in the green or ASF-free zone, adding Garcia should reconsider her decision. Right after Cebu Province's EO, Lemana announced that Negros Occidental was also banning pig and pork-related products from Cebu on March 7.

Lacson requested Garcia to lift the ban after local hog raisers expressed alarm as they cannot ship their products to Eastern Visayas without passing by Cebu. But he said Garcia has not replied to his request yet.

Though he suggested hog raisers ship their products to Manila, Lacson said they refused because of its low buying price. He stated the raisers only requested to pass to Cebu to transport their products to Leyte, considering it is one of the biggest pork importers from Negros Occidental.

He added the ban might affect their food supply since most canned and processed pork products imported into the province originated from Cebu.

Garcia urged the Negros Occidental governor to initiate direct communication with her to arrive at a "win-win solution," stressing that each local government unit (LGU) must observe courtesy against each other. —  JMD (FREEMAN)

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