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‘STOP EATING TURTLES’

Stopping pawikan trade not city’s priority

/ 08:52 AM March 12, 2013

The illegal trade of pawikan (sea turtle) meat in barangay Pasil in Cebu City will only be stopped if people would cease from patronizing the food stalls offering the exotic dish, Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama said yesterday.

“Walay mamaligya ug walay demand. Walay mamaligya ug wala nay magluto,” he said in a news conference at City Hall.

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(There will be no sellers if there’s no demand; there will be nothing to sel if no one’s cooking the dish.)

The mayor was reacting to a Cebu Daily News expose of the continued offering of pawikan stew in food stalls near the fish port in barangay Pasil.

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The pawikan stew is no longer on the menu of an eatery in Pasil when CDN visited the place yesterday.

“Wala pa may dunggo (No pawikan meat were delivered yet),” one of the vendors said.

Pasil barangay captain Jocelyn Almacen said she will summon the vendors who are found to be offering stewed pawikan.

“Ato i-verify ang reports. Kon makakita ta og nagluto or nagtinda og pawikan, ato ipahunong (I’ll have to verify the reports. If ever we will see anyone who cooks and sells pawikan meat, I will ask them to stop what they are doing),” she said.

Mayor Rama said that the people themselves should be aware that when they eat pawikan meat, they are doing something that is against the law. He added that government officials should be more aware of the law and no longer have to be reminded that buying and selling pawikan meat is illegal.

In an earlier interview, the chief of police of Cebu City, Senior Supt. Mariano Natu-el Jr., admitted that he had eaten stewed pawikan   in barangay Pasil, but has stopped since learning about the law that prohibits it.

Rama said that it was also wrong to single out Pasil vendors for the illegal trade of pawikan meat because this is something that is also happening in other parts of Cebu and the country as well.

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But the mayor said  addressing the problem on the continued selling of pawikan meat is not for the city government to address. Instead, he said, it is a task that should be given to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). He said the city government has more important environmental concerns to address like the implementation of the “Gubat Sa Basura” program and the rehabilitation of the Inayawan sanitary landfill.

“Let us be more practical in our approaches. Ug ato na lang sad hutdon tanan (concerns) wala na lang gyud tay ma-accomplish ana,” he said.

Dr. Pilar Romero, assistant head of the city government’s Department of Veterinary Medicines and Fisheries (DVMF) said  they don’t have inspectors who can go after distributors of pawikan meat.

No BFAR-rated inspector

Romero said that there is also no law that mandates the city government to do the monitoring and apprehension of vendors. Such task, Romero, said is assigned to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR). Unless the city has a BFAR-deputized inspector, they will not have anybody to help stop the sale and distribution of pawikan meat.

Romero said the DVMF only has three casual workers whom they’re utilizing as fish inspectors. The three are primarily tasked to go after vendors who sell stale fish that are mixed with food coloring to make them appear fresh.

She said inspectors that will zero in on vendors who sell endangered marine species need to be deputized by BFAR. “Mag depende man gud ang deputization sa training nga ihatag sa BFAR.  Sa pagkakaron wala pa may training pero naa tay ready nga tulo ka inspector nga pwede nato ma-send for training,” Romero told Cebu Daily News.

A ranking regional official of the DENR meanwhile said he was not aware that the pawikan meat trade has resumed in Pasil.

“Na-close na yan dati. We were even recognized by the city for that but we don’t know nag-open na naman,” Al Orolfo, regional technical director of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Coastal Zone Management Services of the DENR, said. He could not however recall how many eateries were shuttered.

“We have only five people in the Philippine Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB). Our strategy is collaboration. the government agency cannot work alone it needs people who share the same concern,” Orolfo said.

He said people especially the fisherfolks and those living in  coastal communities should know why certain species such as the pawikan were classified as critically endangered under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). Critically endangered species refers to a species facing extremely high risk of extinction in the wild because of its trade demand.

“We should look at the value of these animals. We hope they will understand why these are critically endangered. They make a role in the ecosystem. We should all be involved in this because in the end we live in the same world,” Orolfo said.

“Mere possession is illegal, how much more if it is eaten,” Orolfo said.

Step down

Environmental lawyer Benjamin Cabrido wants Cebu City Police office chief Natu-el to relinquish his post if he can’t put a stop to the illegal business in Pasil. He also wants the police chief to explain why he should not be sanctioned for committing a crime.

“If he can’t stop the sale of pawikan meat, he has no business to lead the police force,” said Cabrido of the Philippine Earth Justice Center, Inc. (PEJC). “He (should) explain why he ate (pawikan stew) despite the provisions under the law and (despite) his position as police chief.”

Natu-el yesterday did not make himself available to media for interviews. /Doris C. Bongcac, Ador Vincent Mayol and Marian Z. Codilla

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