Davao Occidental declares state of calamity due to African Swine Fever outbreak

MALITA, Davao Occidental (MindaNews / 4 February) – The Davao Occidental provincial government declared a state of calamity Tuesday due to the African Swine Fever (ASF) outbreak that Governor Claude Bautista described “as a very big problem for the province,” considering that thousands of families depend on backyard hog raising to augment their family income largely dependent on agriculture and fisheries.

Davao Occidental provincial and municipal executives and Department of Agriculture officials hold a town hall dialog in Malita, Davao Occidental on Tuesday (4 February 2020) discussing plans in dealing with the African Swine Fever (ASF) that has hit the province. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Speaking here before hundreds of municipal and village officials attending a special assembly convened to address the ASF outbreak in Don Marcelino municipality, Bautista batted for the killing of all pigs in four of the province’s five municipalities to prevent the spread of the disease to other areas in Mindanao.

“Ang solusyon aning problema is kinahanglan i-eradicate nato ang atong baboy diri sa Davao Occidental. Para sa inyong kasayuran, ang pagtuo ninyo Don Marcelino lang. Asta Sta. Maria, Malita and Jose Abad Santos naapektuhan na,” the governor told the crowd. (The solution to the problem is to eradicate the pigs in Davao Occidental. You think only Don Marcelino was affected. But for your information, Sta. Maria, Malita and Jose Abad Santos were also affected.)

The island-municipality of Sarangani, in the province’s southernmost spot facing Indonesia’s North Sulawesi province, is the fifth municipality of Davao Occidental. The four others, all coastal, are in mainland Mindanao.

Sarangani town is observing a lockdown on the movement of pigs and pork products even if there was no reported incident yet of ASF there, Bautista said.

Davao Occidental barangay officials sign a large manifesto in Malita, Davao Occidental on Tuesday (4 February 2020) to signify their full cooperation and support in dealing with the African Swine Fever that has hit their province. MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

The municipal leaders who attended the special meeting included Mayors Michael Maruya of Don Marcelino, Bradley Bautista of Malita, Jason John Joyce of Jose Abad Santos and Virginia Cawa of Sarangani and Vice Mayor Josephine Mariscal of Sta. Maria, representing her father Mayor Rudy Mariscal.

The gathering was dubbed “Joint Provincial-Municipal-Barangay Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council Special Meeting and Consultative Assembly.”

Before the plenary assembly, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, in a meeting with Bautista at the conference room of the municipal gymnasium here, approved the recommendation of the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (PDRRMO) to place the entire province under a state of calamity.

Harry Chester Camoro, PDRRMC chief, said that besides Don Marcelino, the towns of Malita and Sta. Maria have also declared a state of calamity, which were the basis for the province’s state of calamity declaration.

Bautista said they will ask President Rodrigo Duterte for emergency assistance to address the ASF outbreak.

Bautista said the owners who will yield their pigs will be paid P5,000 per pig by the Department of Agriculture (DA), on top of the assistance from the provincial and municipal governments still under discussion.

He placed the possible loss that will be caused by the ASF to the province’s swine industry between “P50 million to P200 million.”

Agriculture Secretary William Dar arrived in Don Marcelino Sunday to assess the situation and assured the affected residents of government’s help.

Ricardo Oñate Jr., DA-XI director, said here Tuesday that laboratory tests conducted on pig samples taken in Don Marcelino confirmed that ASF caused their deaths, and appealed to the public to help contain the spread of the disease to neighboring provinces.

He said they are still determining how the highly contagious hemorrhagic virus got to the coastal town of Don Marcelino, the first locality in Mindanao with confirmed cases of ASF.

One of the possible causes of ASF contamination in Don Marcelino could be swill feeding, Oñate said.

A market-goer is disappointed after failing to find pork at the Malita Public Market in Davao Occidental on Tuesday (4 February 2020). MindaNews photo by MANMAN DEJETO

Swill feeding is the practice, especially common among small backyard growers in the countryside, of feeding food scraps to pigs.

“We must avoid feeding the pigs with food scraps to avoid them from getting inflicted with ASF,” he said in Cebuano.

For the proposed depopulation of pigs, Oñate told reporters the “most humane way is to hit them with a hard object because we don’t have gas chambers or stunning devices” to kill them.

From more or less 1,000 pigs in eight of the Don Marcelino’s 15 barangays as of January 31, Evelyn Gildore, the municipal agriculturist, said the ASF outbreak in the town has killed 2,956 pigs as of Monday night.

“Out of the 15 samples taken, eight tested positive for ASF,” she told MindaNews.

Gildore said they have counted at least 7,436 live pigs so far in an inventory that is still ongoing as of press time Tuesday.

As of last October, the town had an estimated swine population of 13,000, she added, noting that “many have been slaughtered for the markets or for Christmas occasions,” in explaining the difference of the combined dead and current live inventory against last year’s record.

Gildore revealed that the agriculturist office was alarmed when they were bombarded with formal complaints in the second week of January by residents who were seeking insurance claims for their dead pigs with the Philippine Crop Insurance Corp. (PCIC).

In December, Gildore said “there has been information on some pigs’ death but they were not formally reported in writing.”

The epidemic began in the second week of January, she said, stressing “they did not neglect the problem.”

Don Marcelino Mayor Michael Maruya said that pigs in “all the 15 villages in the town have been infected with ASF to date.”

He noted the depopulation of the pigs started Monday, Feb. 3, and that the dead pigs were buried six feet below the ground in the designated burial sites identified by each barangay.

Maruya said that “this morning 40 pigs were reported dead in his town and could reach more than 100 for the entire day since the ASF continue to hit the backyard farms.”

“Every day since the outbreak, pigs are dying,” he told reporters.

Governor Bautista said he conducted his own investigation following the outbreak in Don Marcelino and learned “that there were already reports of pigs dying since October.”

The governor created a task force to investigate how the contagion intruded Don Marcelino, and said that those officials found negligent will be charged accordingly.

He said a lockdown in the movement of pigs and pork products is in place across the province.

Bautista said he ordered a province-wide inventory of the pigs’ population and their owners that should be completed in a week’s time.

He also tasked village officials to be at the forefront of the inventory, alongside the DA personnel and municipal officials.

Bautista warned village officials they could face administrative complaints if they will not follow the directive.

During the special assembly, provincial, local and village officials signed a manifesto of support with the slogan “Pagpadayag sa Hingpit nga Pagsuporta Batok sa Dangan nga African Swine Fever.” (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)