PVO disease surveillance team member carefully collects a blood sample from a domestic pig as part of efforts to investigate and identify the cause behind recent swine mortalities in Cuyo and Magsaysay island towns. (Photo from the Palawan Provincial Veterinary Office)

A disease surveillance team from the provincial veterinary office of Palawan was recently deployed to the municipalities of Cuyo and Magsaysay to probe the suspected cases of abrupt swine mortalities.

The team’s primary focus will be on investigating the reasons behind the sudden pig fatalities in Cuyo and in the Cocoro and Balaguen barangays of Magsaysay, the Provincial Veterinary Office (PVO) said.

Reports from local residents in the two towns suggest a series of swine deaths, potentially attributed to a disease.

“Lingid sa inyong kaalaman, may sakit pong patuloy na kumakalat ngayon na ang mga dinadapuan ay ang mga alagang baboy (…) Sa Sitio San Carba, dito sa Brgy. Balaguen, may namatay na baboy noong nakaraan tapos ngayon meron nanaman,” a concerned resident from Magsaysay said in a private message to Palawan News on Wednesday, August 16.

The concerned resident stated that the owner of the pigs, which had fallen victim to a disease he tentatively identified as “possibly African swine fever (ASF),” had kept their burials confidential from neighbors.

He expressed his unease as a member of the community, apprehensive that this event could lead to consequences for other pigs and potentially affect their well-being as well.

However, the possibility of this being the highly concerning ASF needs to be verified, Provincial Veterinary Office (PVO) officer-in-charge Dr. Darius Mangcucang told Palawan News on Friday in a phone call.

Dr. Mangcucang said that upon learning of the incidents of swine deaths in Cocoro, they immediately sent their surveillance team last week to Cuyo to conduct a disease investigation. The island barangay was where he said the reports first originated.

“Ang may problema ngayon ay yong Cocoro Island—barangay yan. Hindi tayo puwedeng magbigay ng impormasyon na wala tayong confirmation. Nagpadala tayo agad ng surveillance team doon, at nag conduct na rin ng disease investigation. Nag blood sampling na rin kami sa isla,” he said.

He explained that the Cocoro has been isolated to avoid the potential spread of the disease, which still needs to be confirmed as soon as possible.

The municipal ASF task forces in both towns have already been mobilized, Dr. Mangcucang said, in compliance with Provincial Ordinance No. 2846, also known as the “Bantay ASF sa Barangay” ordinance.

The movement of live hogs and pork products from other municipalities into the towns of Cuyo and Magsaysay has also been prohibited in compliance with identical executive orders issued.

“Meron ng mga boundary checkpoint, at yong mga point of entry, ay nagdagdag kami ng mga foot bath para yong mga bababa doon ay tatapak doon sa disinfectant. Tapos nagpadala din ako ng mga karagdagan na disinfectant,” Dr. Mangcucang said.

“Kapag ganyan, kahit hindi pa natin alam [kung ano yong disease], ico-cordon na yan. Kung hahayaan natin, magkakaroon ng spillage,” he said.

Cuyo and Magsaysay towns are near the Panay Islands, one of the major island groups in the Philippines, located in the Western Visayas region. It consists of four main provinces—Aklan, Antique, Capiz, and Iloilo.

In Iloilo, approximately 10 municipalities are currently categorized as part of the red or infected zone due to the presence of African swine fever, an illness that impacts both domestic and wild pigs.

“Nakabantay na rin ang mga LGU (local government unit). Yong blood samples kasi, ipapadala pa natin yan sa Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) para sa confirmation talaga,” Dr. Mangcucang stressed.

He emphasized that whenever they receive reports, they promptly take action and are vigilant because they do not want ASF to enter Palawan.

Dr. Mangcucang cautioned the residents again that if they persist in disregarding the restriction on bringing pigs, their meat, and any related by-products from the identified ASF red zones, it could pose a significant problem for Palawan, an island province.

He also advises affected residents to refrain from slaughtering the pigs to sell their meat to other islands, as these should be incinerated or deeply buried to halt the spread of the disease responsible for their deaths.

The Philippines experienced its first confirmed outbreak of ASF in 2019 in Rizal province. The disease spread to various parts of the country, including Bulacan, Pampanga, Nueva Ecija, and Cavite, affecting both commercial and backyard pig farms.

The outbreaks had a notable impact on the local pork industry, leading to supply shortages and increased pork prices.

To control the spread of ASF, the Philippines implemented a range of measures, including quarantine zones, culling of infected pigs, surveillance and monitoring of farms, movement restrictions, and public awareness campaigns.

Culling is a common measure to prevent the further spread of the virus, even though it comes with economic challenges for affected farmers.

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has been with Palawan News since January 2019. She is its managing editor, overseeing and coordinating day-to-day editorial activities. Her writing interests are politics and governance, health, defense, investigative journalism, civic journalism, and the environment.