By Hannah Torregoza
Senator Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara on Wednesday said the Department of Agriculture (DA) has P1-billion in Quick Response Funds (QRF) that it can use to stop the spread of the African Swine Fever (ASF).
Angara, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said these funds were lodged under this year’s Calamity Fund, and should immediately be used to implement the DA’s containment protocol to prevent the ASF from further damaging the country’s hog industry.
The senator said the government should now “break the glass of this emergency fund” as the ASF is “by all accounts, a calamity” that threatens a key food source that also adds P280-billion to the economy annually.
“This ASF is by all accounts a calamity. It may not have the dramatic footage that typhoons create, but in terms of damage to livelihood, and the households affected, it is just as damaging,” Angara said.
The lawmaker stressed that preventing the spread of ASF must be done now before it engulfs the entire industry, and endanger the jobs of tens of thousands of people.
“If agriculture disasters like pests, droughts, and ASF are rated, the latter has the potential of becoming a high-category calamity, “ Angara said.
According to Angara, funding for anti-ASF measures can be sourced from the P20-billion National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Fund (NDRRMF), more commonly known as the Calamity Fund. Under this fund, the DA is assigned P1-billion in QRF, “which by their nature, should have been forward-deployed to these agencies.”
Angara noted that it was only on September 10 that the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) released P82.5-million to the DA to carry out measures to “arrest and abate” the spread of ASF. Thirty-five (35) percent of the amount or P32-million will be spent to boost security-screening measures at the international airports. Another P28-million will go to laboratory testing of meat and meat products.
“It is good that we’re strengthening our quarantine curtains, but what we lack are funds to fight ASF on the ground lalo na ngayon na fully mobilized na ang mga local governments. In the future, ito siguro ang mangangailangan ng pondo,” he said.
“But if the ASF epidemic will worsen, and will down many farms, and some financial aid for those stricken is needed, then this can be included in the 2020 budget. Eh yan naman kasi will take effect less than 100 days from now,” Angara said.
The senator also said it was high time that both houses of Congress and the Executive branch look into proposals on how to strengthen the country’s food biosecurity and food security measures.