THE really bad news from the Visayas last month was the confirmation of African swine fever (ASF) in the province of Iloilo. These are the first confirmed cases in Western Visayas since the first ASF outbreak was reported in the country in July 2019. The dreaded disease has so far been confirmed in five towns in Iloilo, Oton the hardest hit with outbreaks in 28 of its 37 barangay.

No cases have been reported on Negros Island and Central Visayas. Despite Cebu's being the center of commerce and travel in the region, Gov. Gwen Garcia's strict enforcement of the ban on entry of live hogs, pork and pork products from ASF-affected areas has prevented the disease from entering the island. Cebuanos' fondness for pork, especially lechon or roasted pig, is legendary. Where else than Cebu could lechon make news? Complaints against some lechon vendors in Carcar City who sold newly roasted meat mixed with "leftovers" went viral and got covered by local news media. Travelers usually stop in Carcar City to buy a few kilograms of lechon for their picnic or chicharon as pasalubong for family and friends.

Indeed, the vendors should praise if not the Lord then at least Governor Garcia for keeping their precious goods free from ASF. Times are hard — Central Visayas with 10.8 percent suffered the third highest inflation rate on food and non-alcoholic beverages in October as per Philippine Statistics Authority, surpassed only by the Davao Region and National Capital Region with 11.7 percent and 11.4 percent, respectively. Lechon sells at P600 per kilogram in Carcar City and at that price, buyers should be assured of a quality product.

The high inflation rate is hurting everyone, but likely Cebuanos harder than most. The PSA 2021 full-year survey on poverty incidence showed a 36.5 percent poverty incidence in the population of Cebu province, up from 19.4 percent in 2018. The national poverty incidence is 18.1 percent. The 36.5 percent poverty incidence is unlikely to have captured the full effects of the devastating Typhoon "Odette" even if part of the data gathering was done in January 2022, a few weeks after Odette hit. The pandemic-induced full stop on tourist arrivals and the lay-off of thousands of OFWs severely affected the local economy. The annual per capita poverty threshold of Cebu was at P25,827 in 2018, equal to the national threshold (P25,813). However, by 2021 a resident of Cebu province needed to earn P33,355 a year compared to the national average of P28,871, in order not to fall below the poverty line. In other words, cost of living increased significantly more in Cebu (and its highly urbanized cities) between 2018 and 2021 compared to the rest of the country. Higher cost of living coupled with loss of jobs was a double whammy for Cebu.

As one of its numerous measures to ease the hardships of the poorest, the province of Cebu last week launched a program that makes medicine and medical services available free of charge at partner pharmacies and laboratories. The governor also led a three-day tour of towns and tourist sites in southern Cebu to give the local tourist industry a boost. While the tourism sector has been rebooted, the days of tourism-as-we-have-come-to-know-it are likely numbered with the increased attention on tourism's, especially the aviation industry's, significant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. So, while we may rejoice over the return of international travelers, and the positive impact on job creation and revenues, tourism-dependent provinces like Cebu need to look beyond the now. If we still need tourism as a major source of jobs and livelihood, what kind of tourism should it be? Worldwide, more than 700 organizations have signed on to the 2021 Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism. They acknowledge "that our dependence on fossil fuels, unsustainable land use, and wasteful consumption patterns drive climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss." "A just transition to net zero before 2050," the declaration goes on, "will only be possible if tourism's [post-pandemic] recovery accelerates the adoption of sustainable consumption and production, and redefines our future success to consider not only economic value but rather the regeneration of ecosystems, biodiversity and communities." On the specific measure of decarbonizing the industry, the signatories commit to "[s]et and deliver targets aligned with climate science to accelerate tourism's decarbonization. This includes transport, infrastructure, accommodation, activities, food and drink, and waste management." Is the Philippine tourism sector ready to commit to such action? To Cebuanos, the good news is that pork is the climate-change friendly meat choice over beef (primarily due to the different digestive systems of pigs and cows). Writes Tamar Haspel, food columnist, in the Washington Post (July 22, 2022): "According to Our World in Data, 1 calorie of pork has about one-seventh the climate impact of 1 calorie of beef." More profoundly, however, we saw how the Covid-19 pandemic caught us unprepared and the local economy took a serious beating when the tourists didn't come. The climate crisis is already here, the need for action urgent. Are we prepared?

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