|The author with just some of her pet dogs on a normal weekend.|
“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way animals are treated,” Mahatma Gandhi said.
The young doktora smiles as she proudly shows this quote. We are in the City Hall, inside the busy Health office. Being interviewed is Dr. Karen Vicencio, City Vet, Parañaque’s one-woman Animal Welfare Division.
According to Section 7 of Republic Act 9482 or the Anti-Rabies Act of 2007, local government units (LGUs) are not only required by law to employ a veterinarian, they are also required to establish and maintain a city pound and a city veterinary office. The latter provisions have yet to see light as Parañaque struggles to implement RA 9482. In the meantime, Dra. Vicencio, seemingly misplaced in the City Health Office, looks to the future for possible programs and improvements.
Animal Welfare in the Back Seat
Republic Act 8485 of the Animal Welfare Act of 2008 calls for humane and proper treatment of animals, penalizes animal torture and neglect, and empowers the Bureau of Animal Industry to regulate animal handling through proper issuance of permits.
Though this law has been in existence since 2008, there are still various animal welfare issues that cry for attention. According to Heidi Caguioa of the Animal Kingdom Foundation, a UK based animal welfare organization, these concerns vary and range from human neglect, maltreatment, and cruelty, to the illegal dog meat trade.
Private animal welfare groups have taken action to help address these issues but government action is not so visible. Anna Cabrera of PAWS or the Philippine Animal Welfare Society claims that “the BAI has not filed a single court case for violation of the AWA”.
As is apparent in the situation in Parañaque City, the government has seemingly assigned the implementation of this law and other laws related to animal welfare to the back seat
City Vets in Need
The situation in Parañaque is not an isolated case, and there are even some cities that are worse off. In Las Piñas City, a query about animal welfare will lead you the Animal Husbandry Division under the city’s Agriculture arm. And though there are Anti-Rabies vaccines given out for free in the community, Cesar Canoi, the Agriculture Department’s Administrative Aid confirmed that there is neither a City Veterinarian nor a City Pound.
In NCR, other cities that do not have this law-mandated City Veterinarian include Taguig and Pateros.
The story, however, is different in Muntinlupa City. With a dedicated City Veterinary Office that aims to “provide quality veterinary services with main trust on animal health, animal welfare,” etc, the city has launched various campaigns which include vaccinations, animal registrations, and animal impounding. Muntinlupa has also reiterated RA 8485 in its Muntinlupa City Veterinary Code of 2009 or City Ordinance 10-118. Dr. Adrian Alab Castillo, Assistant Department Head of the Muntinlupa Veterinary Office, tells us that there are anti-rabies campaigns and programs, spay/neuter operations, and an animal impounding system in place.
Despite the fact that this may be an improvement over the situation in other cities, it is still a far cry from the ideal animal welfare scenario. Though Muntinlupa operates a City Pound, resources are scarce as is evident from the city’s one and only dog-catching team unit composed of three personnel.
City Ordinance 10-118 allows only 48 hours for owners to claim their impounded dogs from the City Pound. After this grace period, the dogs are then either put up for adoption or, in almost all cases, put to sleep. In practice, though, the Veterinary Office holds off euthanasia and allows the dogs to remain in the pound for as long as 3 weeks, waiting for dog fosters that almost always never comes. Dr. Castillo explains further the gravity of the situation as he tells us about how the conversion of these pounds to animal shelters, which avoid euthanasia and aim to rehabilitate, are just not a sustainable reality with the present conditions in the country.
Possible Solutions and More Problems
Various other issues plague the implementation of the AWA.
Issues at local government levels include problems on budget, support, priority, and even politics. Parañque has yet to enact provisions on RA 8485 RA 9482 and Dra. Vicencio tells us that this is due to the fact that the City Ordinances for these are yet to be passed. Although the passage of this ordinance has supposedly been put in motion, as is with the dozens of animal welfare programs that Dra. Vicencio has proposed for the city, approval and implementation, if the programs do push through, take time. Meanwhile, the problem persists.
On the other hand, a number of animal welfare groups have protested and lobbied for the amendment of RA 8485. In senate, there is now the consolidated senate Bill 3329 sponsored by Senator Francis Pangilinan which improve the country’s Animal Welfare Act. “The existing law has no teeth”, Atty. Caguioa of AKF explains, “no national program provided for animal welfare and the Animal Welfare Division, no power to enforce it, plus the fact that it has no provisions for budget”.
Animal Welfare is at a standstill because of the coming elections. At present, SB 3329 had not reached its 3rd reading as the bill’s movement was interrupted by the start of the election campaign period. Atty Caguioa tells us that they hope to refile the bill in the next Congress.
However, not everything picks up as fast after elections are over. Most local government offices are unsure of what platforms these newly elected officials bring. The City Veterinarians can just hope that whoever is elected retains the existing Veterinary Office and continues already existing programs, or begins one if there isn’t any.
“Bantay” and a Call for Awareness
In a third world country like the Philippines, most people reiterate the bigger importance and value of humans over animals. Dogs are of lesser priority, usually constrained to guard dog roles. Dr. Castillo tells us that Filipino culture sometimes even adds to animal cruelty and the dog meat trade as actions like these are considered by others as “macho”.
Ignorance of the issues become the biggest enemy to animal welfare. Perverted perceptions and flawed facts are often what amount to negligence and abuse.
Awareness then becomes the biggest weapon against against infringements on animal welfare, a weapon that Dra. Vicencio, Dr. Castillo, and even animal welfare groups like AKF use.
There is more to Bantay being a guard dog. As Gandhi said, how we treat him reflects on who we are.
(This article was written last month for my advanced journalism class. Thought I'd share this as this paints a fair picture of the animal welfare situation in the country)