news and current affairs

Our National Pride in Tinola

Hungry men don’t ask, they take. – Kenneth Kolb

I don’t know whether I should be laughing or feeling sad for the twisted fates of Brian and Kasagbua. The former happens to be a lumad farmer who felled an ‘ordinary bird’ with a rifle shot, and the latter happens to be an endangered species that was last seen on July 10 in the wilds of Sumilao, Bukidnon.

While the rest of the world went looking for the missing Philippine eagle, an endangered species and one of the world’s largest and rarest eagles whose population in the country has declined to at least 400 pairs, one farmer was certain they will not find him anywhere close to being alive. In fact, he was certain they will only find his nape feathers, his feet and nothing more.

When he shot his air gun that July 10, Brian Balaon thought he was only killing an ordinary bird. He would find out later on that it was not, and that it had a name, and that it bore significance not only to the community of Sumilao, but to this entire nation. He would later on find out that it was a felony to critically harm or kill an endangered species for which he could face up to a maximum of 12 years imprisonment, and/or pay a fine of 100,000 to 1 million pesos. But he found out too late, too late indeed, for the missing three-year old male Philippine eagle Kasagbua had already been turned into a soup dish Tinola.

When I read the story, my initial reaction was to laugh. I found myself laughing for the simple reason that Kasagbua was turned into a savory pananghalian which happens to be my favorite Filipino dish (you haven’t tasted Tinola until you have tasted mine, mwahaha). All those times he was being nursed back to health (he was shot before) prior to his release in March, all the protection being given to him by the community, with all that Wildlife Conservation Act in place, and only for him to end up in one man’s stomach are a great undoing of efforts.

Poor fellow. He was too good to be Tinola.

And I didn’t actually think I’d feel for the farmer since I assumed he must at least know that killing is not permitted. Whether it be a prized eagle or not, endangered or not, killing of any bird or animal is considered illegal. He must know it somehow. He might have really been hungry and it so happened that the eagle perched on a tree near his farm was the first animal he sees, but that still doesn’t qualify as reason to kill.

There are laws governing us, people! We do not just kill (except for disgusting cockroaches that fly). And the fact that he buried the rest of the carcass meant his intent was malicious and deliberate.

But at the same time, I do feel for him because he might have simply acted out on fulfilling his hunger (and he wanted it with soup, too). Times are hard, prices of commodities are continually escalating, people are hungry more than ever, and poverty is a reality we simply cannot escape from. People like him who could not afford to be educated to know the laws governing our society, who are so desperate to fight for their ancestral lands as to brave the blistering heat and march from Bukidnon all the way to Manila, who cannot afford to eat three times a day, cannot find a place to lay their heads on and still keep toiling the land that is not theirs, will resort to any desperate measure to survive.

That is what this killing to me represents – the face of poverty in our country, people starving for little, starving for more, starving for what to them is a meal’s day, to our country, a national pride.

Brian Balaon has been charged with violating Republic Act No. 9147, or the Wildlife Conservation Act and faces up to 12 years in prison and P1 million in fines. What he thought he was doing for survival, he was actually doing for death.

I conclude (and as we already know so well) that hunger kills, and in this one instance, it took with it our national pride.

and Ladies and Gentlemen, we now have our new national food: tinolang agila.

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