041521
(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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