Palawan’s four decades of struggle to stop the mango pulp weevil from blanketing the entire province with a push north from the heavily infested southern towns has suffered yet another setback. Roxas town, the first municipality comprising northern Palawan, has already yielded to the tough bodied little bugs, threatening a total wipeout of the local mango industry.
Reports have persisted since the last quarter of 2018 about the pulp weevil spreading in several plantations despite quarantine efforts of local governments and the Bureau of Plant Industry (BPI) and the operation 24/7 of an inspection checkpoint in Barangay Langogan, Puerto Princesa City’s northernmost boundary.
But with six Roxas barangays already confirmed to be contaminated with MPW, authorities are set to abandon the Langogan checkpoint and move further inland to Barangay San Jose, redrawing the battle lines in a bid to hold off the bugs’ northern march.
The decision was an equivalent of a tactical retreat. The objective remains the same: to strengthen vehicle inspection protocols and prevent the weevil from getting free rides from the unwitting public through fruits stuffed in their luggage.
The problem has kept Palawan’s modestly sized mango industry in a perpetual bind, with unquantified millions in income losses.
Roxas municipal agriculturist Edgar Padul told Palawan News on Thursday that they have prepared the area within Barangay San Jose for the construction of the checkpoint. He said that they are just waiting for the memorandum of agreement (MOA) between the BPI, the Bureau of Quarantine (BOQ) and the local government of Roxas to be signed.
“May request na kami sa Bureau of Plant Industry na ilipat ang checkpoint dito sa amin. Willing kami na lagyan or gawaan ng bagong checkpoint within Roxas. Actually, mayroon na kaming area d’yan sa San Jose. Hinihintay na lang namin ang MOA pero kami ay matagal nang ready for that,” Padul said.
“Kung hindi kami gagawa ng initiative ay lahat ng munisipyo dito sa norte ay maaapektuhan, kakalat ang [mango pulp] weevil dito sa lahat ng munisipyo,” he added.
Padul said that the town of Roxas also has its own program to prevent the spread of the MPW to its more than hundred hectares plantation. He said their program not only protects their residents but also all northern Palawan towns.
“Kami naman kahit wala pa ‘yang checkpoint ay may sarili kaming programa para d’yan. Mayroon kaming power sprayer, mga gamot para ma-sanitize ang mga areas going to Puerto. Kung may sakit naman ang puno, positive sa MPW, ay lilinisin namin at iti-trim kung kailangan,” Padul said.
Dealing with the weevil
Despite the seeming failure of the government’s current efforts to free Palawan mangoes of the weevil, Padul remains optimistic of success. He believes that all it takes is closer coordination and a “solid program.”
“Kung mag-focus ang gobyerno dyan, magkaroon ng solid na programa ay may chance pa na mawala ‘yan,” he said.
Padul believes that the Langogan checkpoint failed to prevent the MPW contamination of Roxas because it was not able to efficiently function in inspecting cargoes and the baggage because of the Privacy Act.
“Hindi kasi nabubuksan talaga ang mga gamit kasi protektado ‘yan ng Privacy Act. Discrepancy and disadvantage ‘yan ng batas natin na pwedeng makasuhan ang magpupumilit na buksan ang mga gamit para lang masiguro kung may mangga o wala,” he said.
In 2019, the Provincial Board requested the Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Provincial Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (PDRRMO) to study the damage that the mango pulp weevil brought over the years to Palawan farmers and growers.
Board Member Albert Rama, chair of the Palawan Provincial Board’s (PB) agriculture committee previously said that the infestation that has reached over northern Palawan is already alarming.
According to Provincial Government records, Palawan has 3,263 mango plantations with around 150,000 to 200,000 mango trees, producing an estimated 22,788 metric tons of fruits annually.
“Malaki sana ang kinikita sa mangga, however, hindi ito nare-realize dahil sa mango pulp infestation. It is very alarming na, sobrang apektado na ang kabuhayan ng ating mga kababayan,” Rama said.
Defruiting and pruning
Rama said one strategy that can help eradicate the MPW in the municipalities is synchronized defruiting and pruning of leaves.
“We should act immediately. Dapat mapag-aralan kung paano ma-eradicate ang infestation, so that we can export sa ibang mga lugar,” Rama said.
The trading of mangoes outside the province has been banned since MPW was discovered in 1987.
Padul said the proposed checkpoint in Barangay San Jose will be jointly managed by the local government of Roxas, Bureau of Plant Industry, and the Philippine National Police.
“Gusto namin na dito para mas mapigilan ang pagkalat ng pulp weevil. Mas magiging effective [ang checkpoint] at mas magkakaroon ng power in case dito ilagay sa amin kasi tao ng munisipyo at Bureau of Plant Industry, actually pati police nga namin dito nandyan din. Pwede namin gawin na checkpoint kung ano pa ang pwedeng dapat bantayan, ganyan dapat ang magiging set up in case na matuloy,” he said.
He also called for a renewed campaign to eliminate MPW in the six barangays of Roxas now discovered to be contaminated.
“Sa ngayon nasa Magara na ang weevil, ang balak namin lagyan ng checkpoint ay sa Barangay San Jose papuntang Port Barton. From Magara to San Jose ay ‘yan ang buffer zone namin. Ibig sabihin negative pa ang area na ‘yan. Para ma-prevent namin ang pagpasok sa iba pang barangay, ang gagawin namin paatras na naman ang pag-control from San Jose to Tinitian,” Padul said.
Despite the setback in Roxas, Padul still credits the Langogan checkpoint as being useful in their campaign against MPW.
“Kung walang inspection d’yan sa Langogan ay matagal nang nakapasok dito sa Roxas at ibang munisipyo. Marami silang nahuhuli, actually, may mga tao lang talaga na hindi alam ang tungkol sa weevil at may iba naman na talagang gustong-gusto ilusot, tuwang-tuwa pa ang mga ‘yan kung makalampas sa checkpoint,” he said.
Padul said that Palawan particularly the northern part that is trying to prevent the spread is losing in the fight against MPW when it comes to the concrete programs.
He said that there should be enough funds to implement the programs or to create other effective programs to win over the MPW infestation.
“Dati sinubukan namin na mag-meet with mayors ng northern Palawan para ma-prevent lalo na dito sa Langogan pero hindi nag-materialize ‘yon. Walang reaksyon na maayos kaya nakapasok ng Roxas,” he said.
“Sa tingin ko dapat maglagay ng pondo dito lahat. Ngayon baka BPI at LGU Roxas lang ang kikilos dito, kung mag-fail kami papasok na ‘yan sa ibang lugar dito sa norte.
Padul said that there are many additional resources needed to combat the problem in the MPW including the awareness of the people, IEC materials, the survey of infected areas including insecticides, mobilization, power spray, chainsaw, and support of line agencies.
‘Yong support ang medyo kulang tayo,” he said.