TAKE A BITE, IT’S ALL RIGHT. Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia shows government officials and industry players at the consultative meeting on the African swine fever (ASF) threat in the province Tuesday, March 21, 2023, that it is safe to eat lechon from Carcar City, where the first ASF cases were detected this month. The meeting was held at the Capitol building in Cebu City. / EARL PADRONIA
TAKE A BITE, IT’S ALL RIGHT. Cebu Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia shows government officials and industry players at the consultative meeting on the African swine fever (ASF) threat in the province Tuesday, March 21, 2023, that it is safe to eat lechon from Carcar City, where the first ASF cases were detected this month. The meeting was held at the Capitol building in Cebu City. / EARL PADRONIA

Gwen says no to ASF color coding, lifts border controls

CEBU Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia has lifted all controls on the movement of hogs across Cebu province, following the detection of African swine fever (ASF) in six areas in the province this month.

She also nullified the color-coding scheme prescribed by the Department of Agriculture (DA) under the National Zoning and Movement Plan for the Prevention and Control of ASF, marking any local government units (LGUs) affected by ASF in the country.

“I will no longer allow color coding in Cebu. We will lift border controls,” Garcia told the mayors of Cebu province; the regional directors of the Department of Agriculture (DA 7), Department of Health, National Meat Inspection Service, and Department of the Interior and Local Government; members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan; and private stakeholders at the Social Hall of the Cebu Provincial Capitol on Tuesday, March 21, 2023.

This was her response to the pronouncement of the DA’s Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) Monday that it would continue to implement the national policies in eradicating ASF, particularly the color-coding scheme that assigns colors for LGUs in ASF risk categories, and prescribes measures for the movement of swine products across the different colored zones.

The BAI made the declaration Monday along with the announcement that aside from Carcar City, it had also found ASF in Cebu City, Liloan, Sibonga, Tuburan and Bogo City in the province of Cebu.

The DA’s zone classifications are red (infected) zone; pink (buffer zone), which are the areas immediately around the red zone; yellow (surveillance) zone, which are the LGUs adjacent to the pink zones; light green (protected) zone; and dark green (free) zone.

The Provincial Government of Cebu and the cities of Lapu-Lapu and Cebu slapped bans on the entry of hogs and pork products from Carcar City (the red zone), with Mandaue and Cebu expanding their bans to the pink and other colored zones in response to the DA 7’s announcement last March 6 that ASF had been detected in Carcar City in southern Cebu.

Executive order

The governor said she would issue an executive order within the day allowing the entry of all live hogs, its genetic materials, and byproducts to all LGUs in the province.

“Hala, padayon mo og color coding, pero di mo makapa-ngolor diri sa Probinsya. Color your coloring books, adto mo didto pag-color. Tagaan pa ta mog krayola,” Garcia said.

(Go ahead, proceed with your color coding, but you cannot do color coding here in the Province of Cebu. Do the coloring in your coloring books. I will even give you Crayola crayons.)

The governor will also give P1 million in financial assistance to all towns and cities under Cebu Province to battle the highly infectious viral disease.

Own rules

Garcia stood firm on her decision to implement the Province’s own policies in containing the threat of ASF and other infectious swine diseases such as Classical swine fever (CSF, also known as hog cholera) in the province.

She made the decision last week after clashing with the DA on its policy to cull all hogs within the 500-meter radius of the infected area and questioning its testing method that led to the positive finding of ASF in pigs in a Carcar City slaughterhouse last March 1.

The DA’s Regional Animal Disease Diagnostic and Reference Laboratory (RADDL) used Real Time Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) to test the samples collected by the LGUs for the ASF virus.

On Tuesday, Governor Garcia reminded the BAI that under the provisions of the Local Government Code, the Provincial Government has the authority to respond to the outbreak and national agencies are required to consult with LGUs in the planning and implementation of national programs.

If the BAI insists on implementing its own protocol, Garcia said that under the same code, the Province can press administrative or judicial charges against any government officials that will not follow the code.

She stressed that this is to protect Cebu’s P11 billion hog industry from “illogical policies” such as the mass killing of hogs within 500 meters from the infected sites, as well as random testing of hogs.

Task force

Garcia stands firm on her “No to culling” and “No to indiscriminate random testing” policies. Instead, she said the Province will create a special task force that will implement province-wide surveillance.

The Swine Task Force will be tasked to monitor the hogs of commercial and backyard hog raisers in the whole island of Cebu. Only swine manifesting symptoms of the viral illness will be isolated and tested for the disease.

This task force will be composed of the provincial and municipal/city veterinary offices down to the barangay, sitio and purok levels.

Garcia noted the importance of science-driven surveillance in determining the spread of the viral disease.

The Province has also tapped the services of Prime Care Cebu to provide test kits and further laboratory analysis of the blood samples collected.

Samples from symptomatic hogs will undergo a rapid antigen test within seven days from the manifestation of symptoms. If the testing is done after more than seven days from the observation of symptoms, then a rapid antibody test shall be done.

Symptoms include high fever, bruising on the skin, vomiting, diarrhea, abortion, bleeding, lameness and sudden death.

The BAI was no longer allowed to conduct “random testing” while Garcia also warned hog farmers and breeders who do not follow her biosecurity mandate that their farms will be closed.

Supportive

Following the governor’s threats, DA 7 Director Angel Enriquez affirmed her full support for the policies of Garcia.

She regarded the governor’s approach as an eye-opener for the rest of the country, with Cebu being the first LGU to implement an approach contrasting with that of the national policy.

“To be honest, what the Cebu Province is doing right now would be an eye-opener to all the provinces and even to the Bureau of Animal Industry,” Enriquez said.

She added that it is about time to review the current policies and attune them to what is happening on the ground.

Good news

Rolando Tambago, president of both the Central Visayas Pork Producers Cooperative and the Pork Producers Federation of the Philippines, said during the meeting that the governor’s policies are good news for hog raisers who were affected by pig culling as a measure against the spread of the disease.

Tambago regards the current national policies as ineffective and counterproductive.

He said that since 2019, five billion hogs in the inventory had been lost to culling operations; however, only 20 percent of these had symptoms of ASF while the rest were healthy pigs.

Separately, Tuburan Mayor Democrito Diamante told SunStar Cebu on Tuesday that Garcia’s new mandate is a miracle for their backyard hog raisers.

He said most of the hog raisers in the town supply pork meat to Cebu City.

Following the announcement of the BAI that ASF had been detected in Tuburan, he had become worried that there would be a surplus of pork meat if bans were to be imposed against them.

He said the ASF in his town had already been contained, affecting only a few hogs in one sitio.

“Magpasalamat gyud mi ni Gov (Garcia). Ug dili pa niya, looy kaayo ang mga baboy nga nasulod sa ASF kay mapugos gyud mi og patay sa baboy,” Diamante said.

(We really should thank the governor. If not for her, how sad for the pigs in the ASF infected area, as we would be forced to kill them.)

Executive order

On Tuesday night, Garcia issued Executive Order (EO) 10-2023 allowing the “free movement of pigs and pork products” within the Province of Cebu subject to the submission, in the case of live pigs, of the accomplished Backyard Swine Registration Form and Veterinary Health Certificates issued by their respective LGU veterinarians. In the case of commercial farms, the requirements are the Veterinary Health Certificates issued by the farm veterinarian and prior concurrence issued by their LGU veterinarian.

The EO also established the Barangay African Swine Fever Task Force composed of the barangay captain, barangay kagawad, purok leader, barangay health worker, barangay animal health aide, barangay nutrition scholar and barangay tanod tasked to conduct an inventory of swine raisers and the swine population, monitor and recommend the isolation of pigs showing signs of ASF/CSF, and facilitate testing of the symptomatic pigs, among other things.

It also mandates the vaccination of swine against Classical swine fever and the growing by every purok of organic ingredients to be used as feeds for their swine population.

The EO also tasks mayors to mobilize their local ASF Task Force and coordinate with police for the conduct of checkpoints and other biosecurity and control measures.

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