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Postmortem Evidence

VIEWPOINT
Postmortem evidence
By Juan Mercado
Inquirer
Last updated 02:25am (Mla time) 12/18/2007

Slaughter of the birds (Inquirer/12/13/07) sparked heated reactions. Here are some condensed comments sparked by the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines' drive to get 10,000 signatures on an online petition to implement the moribund wildlife law (Republic Act 9147)


Josef Sagemuller listens to environmental
lawyer Atty Ipat Luna

"Hunters were incensed and started to harass the original petitioner Josef Sagemuller," emailed the Wild Bird Club's Michael Lu. They've left messages in the petition site telling Sagemuller they know where he is from as well as his background. "They insinuated (that he) seeks financial rewards from funding agencies."

"I don't know how this will end," Lu said. "But they must realize they've broken the law. We've emailed Senators Pia Cayetano, Loren Legarda and Miguel Zubiri, the Bacolod local government and environment office. If nothing happens, it's up to NGOs to continue this fight."

In Palawan province, John Patrick S. Matta heads the Coron Municipal Council's environment committee.

He describes himself as among the "responsible hunters -- who are not like the rest of men. Conservationists know nothing about nature. Responsible hunters do not shoot what we do not intend to eat. We have strict rules and can discipline ourselves. Each hunter through time matures and metamorphosis (sic) into a conservationist like no other. Only a few of you conservationists have crawled on the earth that you defend".

His father "instilled great responsibility" with an air gun gift on his eight birthday with which to commune with nature. As a high school kid he hunted at the University of the Philippines Arboretum, at Fairview and at La Mesa Dam.

Today, "once beautiful forested hillsides have been bulldozed," Matta adds. "Nothing pains the pure blooded hunter more than to see the destruction of our quarries' habitat. Why not direct your gun sights at groups responsible for the wide scale destruction of habitats?"

"We are with you in the conservation of natural habitat," he continues. "Here in Palawan our family owns a 21-hectare piece of property that we intend to keep as a bird sanctuary and nature reserve. Be fair. We are not a bunch of gung-ho and reckless killers that you so readily labeled us to be."

Responsible hunters are a minority, says the Philippine News Agency's Eddie Barrita. Some officials of Cebu province hunt in the province of Bohol and other places. And some journalists tag along. They don't bother with licenses. On their return, they flaunt their "trophies," usually of endangered species.

"Growing up in Cabadjiangan, I remember wild birds perched on towering trees," Barrita adds. "But we deforested the place. People, pollution and unchecked hunting decimated the birds. We'll never hear some sing again."

A veterinarian from University of the Philippines, Los Banos (UPLB), Gerardo Estrera emailed to say that upon receiving the e-mail petition, he studied the issues. He surfed bird websites, mainly in geocities and concluded: "The request for signatures played on the emotions of people, without really dealing with the facts (The Viewpoint) column makes me think that people passed judgment without studying the issues. Shouldn't we be more responsible in passing out such judgments?"

The towering UPLB chancellor, National Scientist Dioscoro Umali, wrote in 1992: Estimates are that half of our endemic flora, with their irreplaceable genetic building blocks, is now gone. The same is true of our wildlife. The actual figure is probably higher.

Since then, scientists fleshed out the "Dean's" view. These include, among others, World Bank and Asian Development Bank studies, Birdlife International Red Data Book, Chicago Field Museum studies, the United Nations’ State of Environment in Asia and the Pacific.

Ignorance of the hard data at this late stage is pathetic. "Demand for more facts seeks the evidence of a postmortem," the Financial Times notes. Thus, Mar Patalinjug emailed from New York: "We Filipinos can be stupid! But what are worse are stupid predators. Can they not see our country's once-diverse fauna and flora vanishing? Soon, vast parts of this country will be deserts like Death Valley."

Fish ignore lines drawn on exclusive economic zones (EEZ) maps. Birds fly over private land or public domain. "I have never been aware of a right to shoot birds in private property," Yeb Sano says."This is nonsense."

This was a reaction to Gino Castabdielo who designed the controversial Bacolod Air Rifle Hunting Club's website (now hustled down). "The group picture of hunters, with their total catch of the day, was taken inside a private property," he wrote. "We were invited by the land owner."

They don't hunt "endangered species like the Flame Templed Babbler and the Negros Bleeding Heart," he said. Nor do they hunt in places like the Kanlaon National Park, the Patag Rain Forest or bird sanctuaries. Precisely, there's a quarry or game birds site."

"There are some bad eggs in (our) basket like everybody else," he conceded. "I've talked to some conservationists '˜kuno' [so-called]. They talked, but no action. I teach my children to love nature. My son is going to be a good hunter -- just like me."

"Where is the soaring eagle circling above the land?" the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines asked in a 1990 pastoral. "All we might leave behind is a barren land."

Seventeen years later, answers to this anguished question have been refrigerated, pending -- what? A postmortem?