Dr. Rafael Mercado, also chief of the Department of Agriculture's livestock division in Southeastern Mindanao, said this week’s confiscation of nearly 300 exotic birds smuggled from Indonesia and their burning served as a wake up call to strengthen preparedness against the Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI) that has plagued Asian countries except Hongkong, Singapore and the Philippines.
"It seems there are shortcomings," he told MindaNews in a telephone interview Friday from Cebu City where he was attending a Regional Avian Influenza Preparedness and Zoning Workshop.
He said the task force will conduct an immediate assessment of their preparedness in the aftermath of the confiscation.
Mercado said Mindanao's proximity to Indonesia, where the fatality rate, 81 out of 101 people dead, from bird flu infection is high, is a serious matter.
He said Mindanao is under threat because the World Health Organization opined there might be a possible avian flu pandemic in the South East Asian country based on the deaths.
Mercado said in the disposal of the smuggled stock, lapses were evident because there is no appropriate gas chamber that can be used to kill the animals with carbon dioxide before incineration.
Authorities placed an estimated 270 heads of wild birds and animals in sacks when they applied chemicals to the animals Monday before burning them in incinerators.
He said aside from the close watch on ports of entry for animals, the other problem is the entry via the southern backdoor, of Indonesian nationals who might have been exposed to the virus in their home country.
He said he doesn't want to appear alarmist but stressed the need for preparations to keep the country on track against the "constant threat" of the flu.
"What if an infected stock slipped through our protection layers?" he asked.
He also denied allegations of confusing protocol on how to handle livestock, wildlife and other related stocks entering the country, especially from AI infected countries.
"The protocol is simple. If there are no papers, it should be disposed of immediately," he said.
Mercado said the international protocol only calls that decimation should be done humanely and peacefully and that's what they did, he said.
He said every country will fight Avian flu in its own way. "Kanya kanya ang bantay nato it so happened that was our rule," he said. (We watch out by our own).
He said they put the interest of the people over that of the birds when they followed the order provided in the Avian Influenza Protection Program of the county.
He said the incident prompted them to strengthen measures provided in the protection program.
Mercado said they will campaign heavily especially in communities along coastal towns around Mindanao to improve information, education, and communication on the disease..
He said the task force will also pursue tracking the stock brought in from Indonesia recently in reaction to reports that a number of birds, especially the more expensive ones, were kept by some personalities.
He challenged those who have information about the alleged theft from the stock that was supposed to have been destroyed, to come out in the open and do their share in the fight against bird flu.