Smuggling of exotic birds should be stopped

Roger Chio, Department of Agriculture regional director for Southeastern Mindanao told MindaNews in an interview Tuesday  that the Regional Avian Flu Task Force has kept its guard against the entry of the disease in agriculture-rich Mindanao.

He said Mindanao is still lucky it is geographically separated from the rest of the countries stricken by bird flu. He said among those left safe from bird flu are Singapore and Hongkong.

He admitted it is difficult to guard illegal entry points as there is a dearth of safety measures to curb illegal trading to and from the Southern Philippine island.

Chio is confident the task force can do its job to keep Mindanao free from bird flu.

His reaction came a day after the National Bureau of Investigation seized estimated 270 heads of wild birds and animals smuggled into the city from Indonesia by a Davao City-based bird trader.

Chio said the problem is a concern for  Customs-Immigration-Quarantine-Security cooperation in the EAGA.

Romeo Montenegro of the Mindanao Economic Development Council said the DENR has been conducting information and education campaigns in entry points.

He said there is still no campaign in the other countries in the EAGA sub-region, but rules and regulations on the control of bird flu are part of the measures to strengthen Customs-Immigration-Quarantine-Security cooperation.

Dr. Rafael Mercado, the DA's livestock chief in the region told MindaNews last week that Mindanao's freedom from foot and mouth disease and Avian flu have brought in advantages for the island's livestock industry.

Chio said there is no guarantee smugglers can be checked as they slip past coast guards, plying routes between cities in Mindanao and in neighboring countries like Indonesia and Malaysia.

But Chio said the government is ready in case the bird flu virus slips through the government's quarantine procedures. He said they are ready to take immediate action, such as destroying the stock from farms where they are stored.

The Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture quarantine officials opted to destroy the  smuggled wildlife stock for fear of bird flu infection. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)