ProVet continues to Africal Swine Fever (ASF) virus in Magsaysay town by monitoring hog raisers in the area. (Photo from PIO)

Ven Marck Botin considered raising hogs as an alternate source of livelihood to support his family’s needs. He began with two piglets until he had saved enough to acquire two breeders and six fattening hogs.

To generate income from hog farming, he sells pork meat or live fattening hogs in the market. He acknowledges the necessity of adjusting his prices to remain competitive in the market and sustain his business. However, Botin admitted that his initial capital has not yet been recouped after three years of hog raising.

“Kung tutuusin, hindi pa ako kumikita. Talo pa ako, pero tuluy-tuloy lang, baka kikita rin ng maganda sa Disyembre,” he said.

Local hog raisers in Palawan, like Botin, are grappling with a multitude of challenges. They face soaring fuel costs for transporting hogs, escalating prices of hog feeds, and diminished buying rates for liveweight pigs. To compound their woes, the ominous presence of African swine fever (ASF) looms large.

The situation took a dire turn on Cocoro Island in Magsasay town, where approximately 285 hogs had to be depopulated by the Provincial Veterinary Office (ProVet) due to testing positive for ASF. ProVet estimates the losses incurred by 84 raisers at a staggering P1.3 million, triggered by the introduction of ASF-positive pork meat from Antique in August.

Provincial veterinarian Dr. Darius Mangcucang emphasized the imperative need to cull hogs within a 500-meter radius of the affected zone to contain the virus’s spread. Failure to effectively control the ASF virus has the potential to devastate the entire swine industry and imperil food security.

“Ang maganda dito ay na-control natin, sa ibang isla ay ubos. Simula noong nag-report ay pinapuntahan ko na agad for sample—Ubos na ang baboy don, ang activities na lang natin ay monitoring na lang at disinfection ng premises,” he said.

From 2019 to 2022, Palawan remained free from ASF and was considered a green zone, providing hogs to help repopulate areas in the country that had been affected by the disease.

Despite its first recorded case, the ProVet asserted that the province can still export hogs to other regions, provided that the exporting town applies for Recognition on Active Surveillance (RAS) through the Department of Agriculture (DA) and obtains certification from the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI).

No ASF presence yet in mainland Palawan
After hearing the news about the ASF virus in Cocoro Island, Botin was one of the raisers who decided to sell some of his hogs, even losing almost P10,000 from the original cost.

“Maraming natakot. Katulad sa sitwasyon ko, natakot ‘yung mga buyer ko ng biik, kaya naibenta ko ng mura. [Nag-all in] ako, ‘yong sampung biik, P25k lamang. Kung walang stigma, perhaps naibenta ko ng P35k ang mga biik,” he said.

However, both Mangcucang and Puerto Princesa City Veterinarian Dr. Indira Santiago refuted the claims of an ASF virus presence on mainland Palawan, asserting that it is merely a strategy employed by some buyers to purchase hogs from farmers at lower prices.

Unscrupulous buyers, he explained, are creating the scare to push hog raisers to the wall.

“May mga tao na taking the opportunity to earn more, kapag may balitang ganyan ay kinakausap nila ang farmers na may ASF na sa ibang lugar, most likely tatawid yan dito at maaapektuhan. Iyon ang buying strategies nila para mabili sa farmers ng mura,” Santiago said.

Efforts to contain ASF and secure Palawan mainland borders

“Some towns have already activated their ASF task forces and increased the distribution of informational materials. Despite testing negative in laboratory tests, the island towns of Cuyo, Magsaysay mainland, and Agutaya have also strengthened their border controls to prevent ASF from entering.

The local government units of Magsaysay and Cuyo have imposed a ban on the entry of pork meat into their towns. Cocoro Island is more than an hour’s sea travel away from the Magsaysay mainland. In addition to checkpoints manned by barangay officials and the Philippine National Police (PNP), they have also installed additional footbaths and designated quarantine officers.

Santiago emphasized that any symptoms or suspicious deaths must be reported to their office to facilitate sample collection and immediate action.

“Kahit chismis lang kailangan patulan kasi hindi mo sigurado kung nagsisimula na talaga kung hindi i-monitor kung gaano katotoo ‘yong lumalabas na issue,” she said.

Challenge of Palawan and PPC in monitoring

The city and provincial offices are working closely to trace online sellers of banned products, which some are allegedly storing in luggage bags. The city government of Puerto Princesa already banned the entry of pork meat and pork-based products into the city in March 2020.

ProVet and City Vet share the same concern over small ports that could be entry points for banned products. Even though airports and seaports have strengthened their quarantine controls, they cannot assure security at small ports with their limited manpower.

“Ang tao natin ay kulang talaga—marami pa na pwede pagdaanan ng bangka. Hindi talaga namin kung kami-kami lang, kailangan mapayuhan din ang mga tao,” Mangcucang said.

“Kagaya ng port sa Tagburos, Macarascas na hindi namo-monitor at under na sa barangay kaya importante ang pakikiisa ng mga barangay kapitan para sa observation ng mga pumapasok na produkto,” Santiago added.

There is a high chance of ASF entering mainland Palawan if locals do not cooperate with the efforts implemented by the government, Mangcusang said. As of now, he is assured that Palawan has strong border control against the virus and close coordination with the quarantine stations in Baseco and North Harbor.

“Possible (makapasok) pero ma-i-strengthen natin, mapapatagal natin. Kung totally ang tao ay makikipagtulungan, mapapanatili natin na green zone tayo,” he said.

P1.2 B industry for Puerto Princesa

Based on computation, the city might lose P1.2 B swine industry once ASF entered the mainland and spread out in Puerto Princesa. City Vet recorded 100,000 hog population raised from backyard farms, which help supply the meat requirement in the city.

In 2022, 74,000 heads were consumed by locals in Puerto Princesa. Around 250 heads are slaughtered daily and supplied to markets.

“Kapag naapektuhan ang Puerto, malaking industriya ang masasagasaan. Nagulat din kami sa computation considering na wala tayong large commercial farms and yet ganon pa rin kalaki ang maaapektuhan,” she said.

Local hog raisers like Botin expressed hope that they will be protected against ASF and the support to local products over imported will be strengthened.

Palawan has no estimation yet on the total worth of the swine industry in the province due to challenges in data banking. But ProVet stated that it could be higher than the P1.2 B estimation of the city as Palawan slaughters an estimated 400 heads per day to meet its daily meat requirement. (PIA)