(The ASF map attached to this article was prepared by the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) of the Department of Agriculture/Genestar Swine Technologies)

At the resumption today of the Senate Committee of the Whole Hearing on the Food Security Risks due to the African Swine Fever, I will propose to the members of the Senate the creation of a Scientific Body to monitor and prepare for emerging risks on human, plant and animal health.

The proposed National Commission on Emerging Risks to the human population of the country, including the plant and animal industry, is a must given our experiences with the recent pandemic and animal and plant diseases.

The absence of this Scientific Body was what caused the gargantuan problems and hardships experienced by the country today, especially the handling and management of the COVID 19 Pandemic and the African Swine Fever.

In the case of the African Swine Fever, for example, I had proposed as early as 2018, the formation of a National Inter-Agency Task Force to help the Department of Agriculture address the threats of the hog viral disease.

Several memorandums, including additional proposals for the installation X-Ray machines for the incoming passengers accompanying and hand-carry luggages, were, however, not acted on.

While it was a disappointing experience, this actually showed the functional deficiency of a bureaucracy in handling crisis situations.

Since most of those in the critical agencies and bureaus of government are political appointees, problems on emerging threats and diseases would not be fully appreciated.

Besides, the bureaucracy by its very nature moves so slow and it could not possibly catch up with a fast mutating and spreading virus like the COVID 19 or the ASF.

This was what exactly happened with our handling of COVID 19 where the initial data and information provided failed to emphasize the gravity of the threat.

The results of this slow reaction and inaccurate appreciation of the threats, brought us to where we are today, an economy which collapsed to negative 9.5%, a hog industry which lost 38% of its stocks, a banana industry which lost a big share of the foreign market because of the Panama Disease and a poultry industry threatened by the recurrence of the Bird Flu.

The organization through legislation of a National Commission on Emerging Risks would greatly help the leaders of the country, especially the President, in their decision making and in crafting measures to protect the citizens of the country, including its agriculture and fisheries sector.

Instead of leaving the decision-making to bureaucrats and government functionaries, scientists and experts will be relied upon to come up with science based assessments and recommendations.

The Commission should also focus on researches and studies to address the problems like the development of vaccines using local viral strains and remedies for diseases.

This is another area where the country had largely been dependent on foreign technology and innovations which I believe is a serious mistake given the fact that the virus could mutate into a strain peculiar to the environment and climate.

This is a very serious matter which we should really work on, or else, with the countless emerging threats faced by the world now, our country would never be able to get out of the rut.

Benjamin Franklin once said: "By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

This is a lesson that we should always remember.

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040521 2

by Secretary Emmanuel F. Piño
Chairman, Mindanao Development Authority

The Pilot Cattle Fattening Feedlot which will start the production of Halal Beef from the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region will be established inside the main camp of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in Darapanan, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao.

The Bangsamoro Development Agency (BDA), which will undertake the project along with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Agrarian Reform (MAFAR), said the move will be a symbolic start of the conversion of the former rebel camps into food production and agro-industrial sites to benefit former combatants and their families.

BDA Chairman Mangontawar Macacuna presented the proposal to build the first Cattle Fattening Facility inside the Darapanan Camp of the MILF to the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) which is helping both the BDA and the BARMM-MAFAR in starting the Halal Beef Production Program.

The proposed Cattle Fattening Facility designed by MinDA staff and consultants under the Mindanao Livestock Development Program will hold an initial 1,000 heads of fatteners.

Part of the sheds to be constructed will have Solar Panel as roofings to generate power for a Solar-Powered Water System to provide water for the facility, as well as the families living inside the camp.

The 'Smart' Cattle Feedlot will be the first of its kind in the country and will be one of at least 10 units which will be established in the five provinces of the Bangsamoro Region.

Former combatants and their families will be the stakeholders of the Cattle Fattening Feedlots, including the Cattle Breeding Facilities.

Halal Abattoirs will also be built in all of the areas to produce packed and processed beef to be sold locally and in other markets in the country.

The former combatants and other farmers in the camps and nearby communities will also be engaged in the planting and production of silage materials for cattle feeding.

The Bangsamoro Halal Beef Program has received pledges of support from the Australian Government and MinDA, representing the Philippine Government.

The blueprint for the Bangsamoro Halal Beef Production Program prepared by a technical working group composed of representatives of MinDA, BARMM-MAFAR and BDA will be presented to BARMM Chief Minister Ahod "Murad" Ebrahim, Al Haj, next. week.

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032421 5

by Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol
Chairman, Mindanao Development Authority

Olutanga, a 20,000-hectare island which for ages was known as a Pirates hiding place, will soon become a major tourism destination in the Southern Philippines with white sand beaches along an 89-kilometer coastline, snorkeling and diving sites and spear-fishing as its main come-ons.

The mayors and stakeholders of the three towns of the island which belongs to Zamboanga Sibugay, Olutanga, Mabuhay and Talusan, drew a virtual picture of how they would like Olutanga to be in the next five years during the 2-day planning workshop to craft a Master Plan of Development for the long-neglected island which is the biggest in the Moro Gulf and the 34th largest in the country.

The tourism sites will include Pulo Lawom or islet with deep water, Pulo Mabaw or islet with shallow water and the famous Snake island, where sea snakes abound.

It will also boost its production of high value aqua and fisheries products, especially the fish cage farming of the expensive "Lapulapu" or Grouper which has a natural spawning area in the island.

Officials of the three towns in the island also agreed to jointly develop their dried fish-making, the seaweed and coconut industry.

Mayors Arthur Ruste of Olutanga, Dr. Lulu Caloñge of Mabuhay and Orlando Ramiso of Talusan accepted the proposal of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) which facilitated the planning workshop to organize a common Tourism Development Council for the island.

Addressing security concerns which had placed the island among the high-risk areas in the region, the three mayors committed P1.5-M to be used in building high-speed security boats to be used by both the Army and the police in patrolling the seas surrounding the island.

Additional patrol bases of both the Army and the PNP were also identified while the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) pledged to provide a meager counterpart through fund sourcing.

The three mayors also agreed to address two very important facilities to prepare for the development of the island into a tourism destination, namely power and water.

For water supply, the three towns agreed to jointly develop spring sources in the town of Mabuhay while identifying and developing water catchment areas and gulleys where mini-dams could be built.

To provide sufficient power for the island, the three mayors accepted the MinDA proposal to explore the possibility of establishing a Solar Farm which will be owned by the three towns to provide power for the whole island.

At the sidelines of the planning workshop, MinDA facilitated the organization of the Infrastucture Monitoring and Advisory Group which would monitor the construction and implementation of the P1-B Alicia-Olutanga Road Project and the bridge which would connect the island to the mainland.

The IMAG includes the provincial government, the construction company, the Department of Public Works and Highways, the religious sector, the barangay chairmen and the mayors of the four towns where the projects are being implemented.

At the end of the 2-day planning workshop, all the stakeholders signed a pledge of commitment to implement the identified plans and programs within the next 5 years.

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040521 1

by Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol
Chairman, Mindanao Development Authority

The COVID 19 Pandemic has taught us a very important lesson that in building a sturdy and resilient economy, the nation's growth must be internally-driven and not dependent on external factors.

The other hard lesson from the Pandemic is that the often neglected and derided "dying industry" of agriculture and fisheries is actually the lifeline which could ensure the survival of the nation.

The numbers do not lie.

While the GDP registered its worst performance since World War II at negative 9.5% and all other sectors submitted negative numbers, the maligned agriculture and fisheries industry posted a positive 0.1% growth for 2020.

These numbers could be easily interpreted to mean the following:

In times of a Pandemic or a natural and man-made calamity, the global supply chain could be disrupted hence an economy which is heavily dependent on external factors (i.e. remittance from overseas workers, foreign investors and imported food supplies) could crumble;

2. A nation with an internally-driven economy and sufficient supply of locally produced goods, especially food, would be able to withstand the debilitating effect of lockdowns and disruptions in the supply chain;

3. People may not go to the movies or resorts during a Pandemic or a calamitous event but they certainly will have to eat to survive, thus agriculture and fisheries are the reserve fuel to boost the economy.

With all these realities considered, the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) is now working with the different agencies of government and the local government units to boost production in the agriculture and fisheries sector and ensure that impediments to the region's economic recovery are addressed and resolved.

Among the areas of focus of MinDA's interventions in coordination with the regional offices of the National Government Agencies (NGA), Government Funding Institutions (GFI) and the Local Government Units (LGU) are:

Mindanao Fisheries and Aquaculture Development Program which aims to build and develop Fish Centers in at least 26 major fishing grounds in the region. The Fish Centers to be funded both by the Philippine Government and the European Union through the MinPAD Rise Program will establish post-harvest facilities such as ice-making equipment, blast freezers, cold-storage, sardines-making machinery and fish-dryers to boost productivity. it will also promote Fish Cage Farming and vanamei production is selected areas of Mindanao;

2. Mindanao Hog Industry Development Program to be implemented in partnership with the private sector which will establish hog breeding facilities in key corn production areas of Mindanao and supply fatteners to LGU-initiated hog raising facilities in ASF-free areas of Mindanao. This program is aimed at boosting hog production in view of the massive devastation of the ASF on the hog industry in Luzon;

3. Mindanao Cattle Industry Development Program to be implemented with the support of the Australian Government under the BIMP-EAGA cooperation program between the Philippines and Australia's Northern Territory. The program will involve the different LGUs of Mindanao which will establish fattening and breeding facilities. The Bangsamoro Autonomous Government will also play a key role in this program as it aims to become the center of production of Halal Beef intended to supply the needs of the region and for export as well.

4. Mindanao Poultry Industry Development Program aims to boost chicken production, both broiler and free-range, in the different areas of Mindanao to ensure sufficient supply for the region. This is also a short-gestation food production program which will provide income earning opportunities for the farmers.

5. Mindanao Corn Industry Development Program aims to establish Grains Storage Silo Systems in the key corn production areas of the region to ensure stable supply of corn for the hog, livestock and poultry industry and also ensure profitability for the farmers. This will be complemented by the Sorghum Development Program which will also produce feed grains and silage for the Cattle Fattening and Breeding Programs.

6. Mindanao Vegetable Production Program through area-focused interventions like the IMMATASULA Complex in Bukidnon.

All of these short-gestating economic and food production programs will be supported by other initiatives like the Green Mindanao Project which promotes the planting of fruit trees in the upland areas of the region, the Banana Industry Development Program which seeks greater support to Mindanao's prime export commodity, the Coconut Industry Development Program which targets the establishment of private processing companies in key production areas, the Bamboo Industry Development Program which promotes the establishment of bamboo farms and processing facilities in the major river basins of the region and others.

To ensure the efficient implementation of these programs, MinDA will organize on Wednesday, March 31, the Mindanao Economic Recovery Facilitation Council which will be composed of the different sectors in Mindanao.

Among the key players in the Facilitation Council are the Regional Chambers of Commerce, the GFIs, the regional offices of the NGAs and the LGUs.

A Central Coordinating Office will be established and manned by MinDA to monitor and receive feedbacks on issues which may affect the economic recovery programs of the region.

The Council will also monitor the budget utilization rates of the NGA Regional Offices and the implementation of projects critical to Mindanao's economic recovery.

The GFIs and agencies with fund assistance and loaning programs will also be asked to facilitate the loan approvals and fund releases for local industries and small and medium enterprises.

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032421 4

by Secretary Emmanuel F. Piñol
Chairman, Mindanao Development Authority

The Bangsamoro Autonomous Region will implement the Mindanao Development Authority-initiated Livestock Development Program with all of its five provinces as the pilot areas of Cattle Fattening Facilities.

These provinces are expected to produce the first banner product of the region, Bangsamoro Halal Beef, which is expected to be launched before the end of the year.

Bangsamoro Minister for Agriculture Fisheries and Agrarian Reform (MAFAR) Mohammad Yacob sought MinDA's technical assistance in implementing the program in the Autonomous Region during the signing of the Memorandum of Technical Cooperation between the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA) and the Bangsamoro Development Authority (BDA) on Thursday, March 18 in Davao City.

The signing of the MinDA-MAFAR-BDA memorandum of technical cooperation was witnessed by Australian Ambassador to the Phiippines Steven Robinson who assured the BARMM officials of his country's support for the Bangsamoro Cattle Development Program.

Yacob and BDA Chairman Mangontawar Macacuna said cattle production in the region is a priority project because the region is a huge consumer of beef, especially during the annual Qurban, the ritual sacrifice of a livestock animal during Eid al-Adha.

For this year's Qurban, over 1,000 heads of cattle are expected to be slaughtered and the meat shared with Muslim communities all over the region.

Muslims also mark special family and community occasions by slaughtering cattle or goats.

By establishing Cattle Fattening Facilities in each of the five provinces of the BARMM, the beef requirements of the local population would be served, Yacob said.

The project designed by MinDA will also create allied activities like corn and sorghum production, silage-making and leather making.

For the five pilot Cattle Feedlot Facilities, an estimated 5,000 heads of Cows and steers will be imported from Australia to be fattened and slaughtered after 100 days.

Initially, the first feedlot will be established near the Triple A Halal Abattoir built by the Department of Agriculture (DA) in Cotabato City.

Before the end of the year, the Bangsamoro Cattle Program will introduce the Bangsamoro Halal Beef, produced from cattle fattened and slaughtered in the region, which will be initially marketed locally.

The program will later target the huge Halal Market in the BIMP-EAGA area and later Muslim countries in the Middle East.

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