The stories are enough to reduce animal lovers to tears. There was Popeye, the dog whose owner poured kerosene all over him last month and set him on fire to allegedly manage a flea infestation. (Popeye eventually died.)
There was the picture that went viral on Facebook (God bless social networking) in March this year, of a dog in a sack tied to the back of an SUV; the establishment under whose name the vehicle was allegedly registered, Apollo International Cagayan Trading Corporation, was located, but caretakers at the house refused to comment, and the fate of the dog remains unknown.
Most recently, there was the video of the guard at the Technological University of the Philippines (TUP) in Cavite who, despite the grainy quality of the video, was obviously beating a whimpering puppy; school authorities claimed the guard was just shooing (!) the dog away.
Earlier this year, in what was probably the most brazen and shameless case yet, several Korean nationals were held last March 30 after they were caught running an Internet dog-fighting operation in Laguna. The infuriating fact was, they had already been busted just three months earlier, Dec. 2, operating a similar ring in Cavite.
After some months in captivity, the Koreans were recently found guilty, and fined a laughable P5,000 for violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and P6,000 for violating the anti-gambling law. The incredible part is, they are now suing the National Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Immigration.
“We see cruelty everywhere,” says Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) executive director Anna Cabrera. “On social networking sites, people are bragging about being cruel to animals. As much as awareness about these issues has increased, the avenues by which demented people can ‘advertise’ their acts of cruelty have also increased.”
Still, despite such setbacks, the mainly private NGO-led campaign to amend the outdated AWA continues. Last Sept. 4, a number of supporters, many clad in T-shirts that declared, “Amend the Animal Welfare Act,” showed up at the Senate for a much-awaited hearing led by Sen. Francis Pangilinan, chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture and Food, which, in this country, is in charge of animal welfare issues.
On the agenda were proposed amendments to the AWA, Republic Act 8485, “An Act to Promote Animal Welfare in the Philippines,” which became law on Feb. 11, 1998.
The original act basically put the responsibility of policing any “pet shop, kennel, veterinary clinic, veterinary hospital, stockyard, corral, stud farm or stock farm, or zoo for the breeding, treatment, sale or trading, or training of animals” in the hands of the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI), and creates a Committee on Animal Welfare attached to the Department of Agriculture.
Torture and neglect
In terms of animal cruelty, however, what the average Filipino should be at least vaguely aware of is Section 6: “It shall be unlawful for any person to torture any animal, to neglect to provide adequate care, sustenance or shelter, or maltreat any animal or to subject any dog or horse to dogfights or horse-fights, kill or cause or procure to be tortured or deprived of adequate care, sustenance or shelter, or maltreat or use the same in research or experiments not expressly authorized by the Committee on Animal Welfare.”
In short, strictly speaking, if your neighbor beats his dog, or fails to feed it, he or she is violating a national law. Then again, who’s afraid of the consequences? Certainly not the Korean dog-fighters, for example, who probably never even blinked at the fine.
That’s because Section 8 of the current Act specifies: “Any person who violates any of the provisions of this Act shall, upon conviction by final judgment, be punished by imprisonment of not less than six (6) months nor more than two (2) years or a fine of not less than one thousand pesos (P1,000.00) nor more than five thousand pesos (P5,000.00), or both at the discretion of the Court.”
“A society that treats its animal with love and respect is always orderly and peaceful,” notes director on legal affairs and legal counsel of PAWS, lawyer Roy Kayaban.
“However, as in every beginning, hitches or defects appear, and the Animal Welfare Act has its own imperfections; hence, the need to amend the law. This law has also been tested in the various cases litigated by PAWS, and these defects have appeared.”
Some of these defects, and the limited jurisdiction, have already resulted in some problems. “It is the private organizations which are taking the lead, because all these years the BAI has not filed a single court case for violation of the AWA,” says Cabrera. Meanwhile, PAWS has filed over a dozen cases. In 2001, PAWS and another animal welfare NGO, Earth Island Institute, filed a case against Ocean Adventure for failure to secure a permit for the dolphin show.
In a nutshell, the case didn’t progress because whales and dolphins, the ruling read, were not covered by the AWA, but were considered “fish/fishery/aquatic products,” covered only by the Fisheries Code of 1998. Read: it’s okay to be cruel to “food”—or better yet, dolphins aren’t, uh, animals.
Cabrera and Kayaban both spoke at the hearing in front of the Senate Committee. Among the amendments the groups was pushing for were, in summary, to make the Act cover “all animals of land, sea and air”; to make it unlawful to use animals for entertainment and to perform circus acts and tricks; and to make rescuers of animals in distress immune to liability, provided the act is not seen as an offense.
This last item came about after volunteers of a Cavite animal welfare group were actually charged with theft for rescuing a maltreated dog.
Most significantly, PAWS is pushing for heftier penalties: imprisonment of 10-12 years and a fine of P300,000 if the animal dies; imprisonment of eight to 10 years and a fine of P200,000 if the animal survives but is severely injured and needs human intervention to sustain its life; and imprisonment of six to eight years and a fine of P100,000 for subjecting any animal to cruelty, maltreatment or neglect, but without causing its death or incapacitating it to survive on its own.
Sen. Pangilinan himself expressed openness to the increased fines, based on the gravity of the offense. “Baka pagtawanan lang ng mga Koreano yung P50,000 fine, if they make millions a day,” he said during the hearing.
Proposed amendments to the AWA have been filed before the hearing. Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, who was represented at the hearing by her staff, has filed three bills: SB 1691, making it unlawful to allow pets to run unattended on the streets, batting for more animal shelters, and making abandonment unlawful, as well; SB 1942, which increases the imprisonment period to two to five years, and the fines to P20,000-P50,000; and 3154, which reiterates SB 1942’s proposals in the light of the dog-in-a-sack incident.
Also present at the hearing was Sen. Gregorio Honasan, whose proposed bill, SB 3222, pushes for longer prison time of four to six years, and an increase in penalty of P30,000.
The hearing ended with the legislators asking for additional information from the representatives, including PAWS, and encouraging private and government sector to work together. PAWS spokespersons, such as actress Heart Evangelista and model Joey Mead, were also asked to say a few words.
“We are inclined to strengthening the Animal Welfare Act, but we need to ensure that penalties for animal cruelty are not higher than penalties for inflicting injuries upon persons,” concluded Sen. Pangilinan. “This matter would have to be studied more closely… Still, if we are to move away from impunity and a culture of violence, then we must include the animals.”
“Legislators have taken the initiative to amend the law,” Kayaban says, “and we, as the people in the field who have tested the existing law and have firsthand knowledge on its defects, are helping re-craft it into a more perfect and workable piece of legislation.”
Now, with the government concerned with other seemingly more “pressing” issues like disaster management, it’s a waiting game for this law that urgently needs to be updated.
In the meantime, animal lovers in the Philippines would do well to help lobby, create awareness, be vigilant, and let their lawmakers know that this is indeed an important matter.
“We’re just up against time limits,” Cabrera says. “Often, animals are relegated to the bottom of priorities because, as they say, animals don’t vote… But when we protect the animals, we also protect our society against violence. People who have been known to hurt animals move on to hurt human beings. Widening our circle of compassion to include the animals is not just for sentimental reasons. It makes perfect sense. Animals are connected to people. What happens to them happens to us.”
What to do when you see animal abuse
IF YOU see animal cruelty in progress (such as persons slaughtering or selling and buying dogs for the dog meat trade, or inflicting harm on animals), please report the incident immediately to your barangay officials and/or to tel. 117. PAWS needs citizens as witnesses to help file charges so that we can prevent this cruelty from happening again. (Call PAWS at tel. 4751688; e-mail email@example.com.)
In order to prosecute criminals for the violation of the AWA, PAWS needs complete details (date, time, exact location, people involved). If you are not willing to execute an affidavit, please recommend another eyewitness who will.
If the persons committing the crime are not known, the best we can do is alert police officers to the exact location in the hope that they will be catching the criminals in the act. Kindly call 117 immediately, and take down the name of the one receiving your call. From experience at PAWS, all “117 officers” treat these reports seriously and send a mobile patrol right away (but it would still be good to take down the name).
For cases where neglect is ongoing, you could e-mail full names and complete address to firstname.lastname@example.org, and PAWS can send an official letter to them through the barangay. (Please provide the contact info of the barangay captain/officers.)
To file charges, you need an affidavit (go to paws.org.ph for a sample) detailing the circumstances behind the case. There are no expenses involved other than a filing fee of about P100 when you go to the Prosecutor’s Office. PAWS volunteer lawyers can help you review your affidavit.
Report them to the barangay so that the barangay will likewise be watching over them. Furnish barangay officials with a copy of RA 8485 (The Animal Welfare Act).
If your barangay officials refuse to act during the time that you reported the crime to them, please execute an affidavit re: their names, what happened, etc. so that we can file administrative charges against them.
PAWS needs and encourages everyone to take action: report cases and/or file charges against cruelty. Verbally complaining (even through e-mail or Facebook posting) is not enough. (From the PAWS website, paws.org.ph)
P.S. In case you are wondering, cases can progress—but you can’t just sit and wring your hands, or expect overloaded animal welfare groups to handle everything themselves.
In October 2011, after almost two years, Marian Yutuc of Montalban got justice for her dog Kevin, who was beaten to death by brothers Christopher and Gilbert Babe when she wouldn’t hand the dog over to them for pulutan. The Babe brothers were convicted by the Rizal court to serve time in jail.
Jerzon Senador of Calamba, Laguna, who brazenly posted the picture of the puppy he hung on a clothesline on Facebook, is now at large, after a warrant was issued for his arrest last April. Offenses are bailable—but it’s some consolation to know that these scumbags are marked for life by a criminal record.