MANILA - Senator Cynthia Villar on Tuesday said the government was caught unprepared for the outbreak of avian influenza in 3 towns in northern Luzon.
Villar, chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Food, said she will call for a hearing with the Department of Agriculture to discuss the prevention of another bird flu outbreak.
"I want them to do their work first then maybe after we have solved this problem, then we can talk in a committee hearing to see that it will not happen again—more like prevention for the second time and being prepared in case it will happen again," she told ANC's Headstart.
"Kasi minsan, hindi sila masyadong prepared kasi hindi sila handa dito," she added.
The senator said there is a "lack of education" on how citizens will handle bird flu.
"Di nila alam ang gagawin, di naman nila maipagbili. Sabi ko, i-dress ninyo and then put it in the freezer and you can sell it again after all this has come to pass. Dapat merong ganun; lack of education eh," she said.
"We’re not prepared for this because I think even the provincial agriculturists and the town agriculturists are not prepared for this. Parang may lack of knowledge on what to do," she added.
Villar said there are municipal agriculturists in every town and provincial agriculturists in every province in the Philippines, but jurisdiction was given to the local government units.
"Maybe we can do something that these provincial agriculturists and town agriculturists will be more proactive. One of their problems is if the governor or the mayor is not really that interested in agriculture, they don’t have any budget," she said.
The senator said she was mulling requiring the local government to allocate a certain percentage of their budget to agriculture, like how 5 percent of their budget was allocated for gender and development programs.
A bird flu outbreak has been declared in the agricultural town of San Luis, Pampanga, while 2 more cases were confirmed in the towns of Jaen and San Isidro in neighboring Nueva Ecija.
Hundreds of thousands of fowls are set to be culled in the said areas, according to Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Piñol.
Villar said the government agency's decision to cull all live fowls within the 1-kilometer radius of where the flu was first reported is part of international protocol.
She, however, added there should be a different procedure where other poultry products are concerned.
"The protocol that I read—hindi ako masyadong familiar sa technical, but iba daw yung protocol sa live chicken, protocol sa dressed chicken, protocol sa egg, saka protocol sa chicks kasi that’s the whole industry, hindi lang live chicken," she said.
"They have different products so we have to follow different protocols to minimize the damage to the industry," she added.
She also called on the department to change its strategy in updating the people on its actions in containing the virus in the three farming towns.
"I think they should calm down the people and then do the best they can silently, not making many announcements that could affect the industry when it’s not that serious naman," she said.
"We can stop it in 2 provinces, but we should not include everybody. We should be very careful because we have a big poultry industry," she added.
The poultry industry, she said, contributes about 15 percent of the country's production in agriculture despite the government's "minimal" support.
Together with the livestock industry, which also contributes about 15 percent, the industry is allocated only P1.4 billion out of the P50-billion budget of the DA, said Villar.
"Kung tulungan man nila ngayon na mas exaggerated, that’s okay because they’re really in trouble. I hope this will be handled well so those who are not really affected will not be affected," she said.