PILI, CAMARINES SUR – As the Department of Agriculture here is gearing up for the declaration of ASF-Free status in some of the municipalities of Camarines Sur previously affected by this swine virus, new outbreaks and cases surged in six additional municipalities and 1 in Camarines Sur and spilled over in one barangay in Albay province. Recurrence was also noted in 3 municipalities.

The new confirmed cases based on laboratory tests to date are in 56 barangays in 9 municipalities and 1 city: 3-in Milaor; 8 in Minalabac; 20 in Bula; 11 in Pili; and 4 in Nabua; 1 in Iriga; 2 in Baao, 3 in San Fernando and 3 in Sta. Elena in Camarines Norte and I barangay in Pio Duran, Albay. Based on the field investigation report, the case in Sta. Elena was likely a spillover from the adjacent Calauag, Quezon where a river traverses through their boundaries. The case in Pio Duran was a spillover from Camarines Sur where pigs from infected municipalities were clandestinely transported through the back door or newly opened routes connecting the two provinces.

 The DA Regional Quick Response Team on ASF and other Emerging Animal Diseases presided by Regional Technical Director for Regulations & Research, Dr. Edgar R. Madrid made its  assessment on the  sudden spike of new cases. One of the reasons identified is the influx of viajeros coming from outside the Bicol region who have contacts or agents in every municipality who buy live pigs at a higher price than the local buyers. These agents establish holding or pooling pens where pigs bought from different municipalities are temporarily held while awaiting for the viajeros to pick them up. Upon investigation by the DA team it was found out that these viajeros  would bring their carrier trucks and stand by or linger in an uninfected  municipality and there buy some healthy pigs and secure veterinary health certificates for the healthy pigs they bought while waiting for their agents to bring in the pigs bought by their agents from infected municipalities.

It has also been noted that most LGUs have already dismantled their local checkpoints citing that their funds are already depleted with expenses incurred mostly on COVID related interventions.  Moreover, some LGUs have been lenient and slow in the implementation of mandatory depopulation in their affected barangays. Some reasons cited is the unavailability of supplies and machines needed such as disinfectants, limes and back hoe and the difficulty in identifying the disposal or burial site as this has to be approved by the DENR.

According to DA Regional Executive Director Rodel P. Tornilla in compliance with Memorandum Order No. 24 issued by Secretary William Dar on April 17, 2020 depopulation should immediately be undertaken by the LGU once the positive laboratory test result has been forwarded to them by DA Regional Executive Director. Depopulation entails the rapid and deliberate killing of infected and potentially infected, or contact animals in an attempt to “stamp out” disease and prevent it from spreading to a healthy population while employing prescribed means of humane  culling in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act. This has to be undertaken by the LGU concerned, assisted by the Provincial and Municipal Disaster Risk Reduction Management Council and with the technical support of the DA through the Regional Quick Response Team for Emerging Animal Diseases within 7 days after the confirmation of positive case.

For the new and recent ASF cases depopulation has been conducted starting August 8 to date with an initial count totaling to1,153pigs owned by 220 raisers broken down as follows: 96 pigs owned by 13 raisers in Milaor; 262 pigs owned by 43 raisers in 8 barangays of Minalabac; 387 pigs owned by 66 raisers in 13 barangays in Bula; 762 pigs owned by 93 raisers in 9 barangays in Pili; 37 pigs owned by 2 raisers in 2 barangays in Nabua and 9 heads owned by 3 raisers in Sta. Elena, Camarines Norte.

Another reason for the fast spread of the virus especially in this second wave is the clandestine slaughtering and selling of pigs in the ASF areas already declared ASF infected instead of surrendering them for depopulation which is a violation of the Meat Inspection Code and the Food Safety Act. Already the Regulatory Division of the DA headed by Rosita Imperial has recommended to BAI for the revocation of licenses of meat traders who have violated said law.

The RQRT has also coordinated with the local officials for the mobilization of Task Force “Bantay Karne” in their respective areas. The National Meat Inspection Service Team headed by Dr.  Alex Templonuevo are also making regular rounds in the affected municipalities and conducting inspections and confiscations of hot meats and meat products. To date the regional NMIS has already confiscated and condemned 49,882.74 kg of meat and meat products. Dr. Templonuevo said they are also closely monitoring on-line selling of meat and meat products and admonish the public from buying through this mode especially if the sellers have no legit documents.

On the other hand the Quarantine personnel headed by Regional Veterinary Quarantine Officer, Dr. Emmanuel Villafuerte of the Bureau of Animal Industry who are manning the 23 DA veterinary checkpoints, to date, has already confiscated and condemned 40 heads of pigs and 28,806.52 kg. meat coming from ASF infected. In addition a total of 36,488.94 kilograms of meat and meat products and 7,695 heads of pigs and chicken were apprehended and ordered returned to origin for lack of necessary documents such as veterinary health certificate, local shipping permit, livestock handler’s license and transport carrier accreditation. .

With this recent development the RQRT through RTD Madrid has recommended to Dir.  Tornilla to invite the local chief executives for a virtual meeting via zoom to discuss the problems and measures to be undertaken to stem the further spread of the virus.

The first ASF case in Camarines Sur was confirmed and declared on February 20, 2020 in Bombon Camarines Sur and since then it has affected 17 municipalities of Cam. Sur and one barangay along the Quezon-Bicol border in Sta. Elena Camarines Norte. An almost flattening of the curve in the occurrence of positive cases was noted between May and July when the average positive case was only 5.3.

To date, DA Bicol has already paid P45,510 million  indemnification for 9,102 depopulated pigs owned by 1,738 farmers in the first ten municipalities affected by the ASF. In addition it has extended assistance package consisting of  3,720 heads of free-ranged chicken and mallard ducks  to 364 ASF-affected farmers who did not qualify for indemnification. It has again requested the BAI for the next tranche of release of indemnification funds.

The confirmatory tests on samples collected from suspected infected pigs were conducted at the Regional Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (RADDL) based in Camalig, Albay. The RQRT Surveillance Team has so far collected and analyzed 2,465 blood samples and 113 organ/tissue samples and diagnosed 2,589 animals suspected for ASF. It has also conducted 462 field investigations. Information dissemination via virtual meetings with provincial an city vets, municipal agriculturists, radio interviews, distribution of IEC materials and issuance and posting of news releases and advisories and infographics are also being aggressively being done. (EMILY B. BORDADO /DA-RAFIS5)