Capitol casts doubts anew on BAI’s legal authority

THE Provincial Government of Cebu once again questioned the legal authority of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) in formulating and implementing policies against African swine fever (ASF) and other communicable animal diseases.

In a press conference on June 8, 2023, held at the Municipal Hall of Tudela in the Camotes Group of Islands, Gov. Gwendolyn Garcia said BAI has no authority on the creation and application of its existing policy against ASF according to the provisions of Executive Order (EO) 292 of the late President Corazon Aquino in 1987.

“The BAI has no mandate to define the policies of prevention of animal disease, that mandate it invested in the Sangguniang Panlalawigan and for a long long time the culling and color-coding policy of BAI has severely affected our own local economies and it is time for us to act,” Garcia said.

Legal discrepancy

Under Title 14, Chapter 4, and Section 18 (1) of EO 292 or Instituting the Administrative Code of 1987, BAI was only tasked to “formulate programs for the development and expansion of the livestock, poultry, and dairy industries to meet the requirements of the growing populace.”

However, Cebu Provincial Legal Officer Donato Villa argued that he saw a discrepancy in the published version of the provisions of EO 292 found on the official website of BAI.

“In addition to what we’ve filed against BAI, we studied how the agency was created and its mandate. We’ve discovered that it was not tasked to make such policies, particularly the culling, color-coding zone, and preventing the spread of the ASF and other swine diseases,” Villa said in a mix of Cebuano and English.

Villa said BAI was created under Republic Act 3639 in 1930; however, its tasks and obligations were specifically stipulated in EO 292.

Found on BAI’s website, Villa said BAI had published its own version of EO 292, particularly in Title 14, Chapter 4, and Section 18 (1) was changed to, “Formulate programs for the prevention, control, and eradication of animal diseases and for the development and expansion of the livestock and poultry industries to meet the growing requirement of the growing populace.”

“They’ve made an addition to the first paragraph, but the rest remain the same which was not in the original EO. So these policies that they’ve recently made against the spread, prevention, control and eradication of communicable disease are questionable,” he added.

The power to formulate and adopt policies and measures in the prevention and control of the spread of any communicable animal diseases was with the Sangguniang Panlalawigan, under Section 468 (v) of Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code, Villa argued.

Further provisions of the Local Government Code such as Section 2, Section 5 (a)(c), Section 16, and Section 534 gave powers to all local government units (LGUs) superseding the legal basis of the BAI to implement its own policies.

SunStar Cebu reached out to BAI but received no response to its inquiries as of press time.

Economic devastation

Garcia said BAI’s policy, particularly culling and the color-coded mapping zones had “severely” affected the P11 billion hog industry of Cebu province, resulting in an oversupply of live hogs in the province.

Adjacent regions such as the Negros Islands, Leyte, Samar, and one province in Luzon and Mindanao banned the importation of swine and pork meat coming from Cebu province.

Jonathan Young, president of the Central Visayas Pork Producers Cooperative (Cevippco), in an interview on Thursday, June 9, confirmed the surplus supply of live hogs in the province.

“Currently we have around 5,000 to 6,000 heads per month of excess supply in Cebu, as some usual markets such as Leyte and Samar closed their borders for entry of our pigs into their region due to the declaration of BAI,” Young said.

The BAI declared last March that ASF had reached Cebu.

Another concern was that the price of pork meat in the local wet markets remains high despite the decrease in the farmgate prices of live hogs.

Young added that hog raisers, especially the small-time farmers, were suffering losses of P1,000 to P2,000 due to low farmgate prices.

“The price at the farmgate is dropping a lot from P170 now to around P140 to P150 per kilo, a drop of around P40 per kilo, while in the wet market and groceries, pork meat prices have not dropped at all,” Young added.

He added that Cebu is one of the major exporters of live hogs and pork meat in the country.

Young said BAI must reconsider the request to lift or amend its color-coding scheme that limits the regions in selling their live hogs and pork meat product to other regions as this only leads to oversupply.