Gov't plans to give Marawi evacuees chickens from Central Luzon

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Marawi City (CNN Philippines, August 27) — Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol on Thursday said the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) is planning to buy chickens from Central Luzon and give these to evacuees in Marawi.

Authorities have killed and buried thousands of chickens in Central Luzon infected with the bird flu virus, which tests found may be passed on to humans.

READ: Agriculture Department: PH bird flu strain transmissible to humans

The bird flu outbreak has also caused an oversupply, leading to a drop in chicken prices from P80 to P10 pesos per head.

Piñol added that President Rodrigo Duterte has agreed to the plan.

"I asked President Duterte if the Department of Social Welfare and Development can buy some of the chicken," he said. "Baka pwedeng ipamigay sa evacuees sa Marawi para mapakinabangan [Maybe these could be given to the Marawi evacuees so that they could benefit]."

Piñol added that chickens are safe to eat and that they will make sure they will undergo tests before being dressed, packed, and distributed.

Is it safe?

Marawi authorities are, however, apprehensive.

In a statement Sunday, Lanao del Sur Crisis Management Committee Spokesperson Zia Alonto Adiong said they appreciate efforts to provide “decent food” for evacuees, but added they take "great caution" in receiving poultry products from areas suspected of having the virus.

“The national alarm created by this epidemic has also seeped into the consciousness not only of consumers but as well of the evacuees staying temporarily at various evacuation sites,” he said.

Adiong said the displacement caused by the Marawi conflict is “replete with sensitivities” to be considered before extending assistance.

“We are partly apprehensive that such would be misinterpreted as belittling the health concern of our evacuees and might even lead to further alienation.Instead, we call on to agencies concerned that apart from salvaging the poultry industry in Luzon, we must also put primacy on the health security of the affected civilians cramped in evacuation centers,” he said.

Adiong earlier said the government must first make sure the birds are safe to eat.

"They have to establish first that the bird flu epidemic is over," Marawi Crisis Management Committee Spokesperson Zia Alonto Adiong said on Friday. "They have to make sure this is already safe for consumption."

Adiong also questioned the timing and intention of the plan.

"If they are concerned with providing good food, nutritious food to our evacuees, they should have done that earlier, not at the time when there is a national alarm of a bird flu epidemic," he said.

Thousands of internally displaced persons in Marawi have been eating mostly canned goods for over three months now, but they are also unhappy with the move.

"Kahit sabihin nila na safe, hindi ako papayag na kumuha diyan [Even if they say it's safe, I still won't eat it]," said Cayamona Miraato.

"Sasabihin ng gobyerno na safe," said Salam Mulay. "Paano kung may mangyari sa amin?"

[Translation: The government says it's safe. What if something happens to us?]

Cannot be transmitted through eating

Office of Civil Defense Deputy Administrator Kristoffer Purisima said in a Friday Palace briefing that the evacuees' health and welfare are the government's top priority.

"We know what's happening on the ground and we're addressing all the needs of our IDPs, whether they be in our evacuation centers or home-based," he said. "Parating nandoon ang ating task force on the ground."

[Translation: Our task force is always on the ground.]

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said in a Friday press briefing that the bird flu virus cannot be transmitted through eating infected poultry products.

READ: DoH ramps up bird flu preps, even as no human cases recorded

To be safe, though, Ubial encouraged the public to cook poultry products well and disinfect kitchens after cooking.

However, the Department of Health advised the public to avoid contact with live birds that could have been exposed to bird flu.

Those who do work with live birds and other poultry products should wear protective equipment and practice regular handwashing.