MANILA, Philippines - Saying that hurting animals is no different from hurting humans, animal rights advocates and government agencies want stiffer penalties for animal cruelty.
The Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) told the Senate agriculture and food committee on Tuesday that the punishment for violence against animals must be imprisonment of 6 to 12 years and a fine of at least P100,000.
PAWS, the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the Bureau of Animal Industry (BAI) agree that the current penalties are not enough. Under Republic Act 8485 or the Animal Welfare Act, people hurting animals will face imprisonment of only 6 months to 2 years and a fine of P2,000 to P5,000.
Anna Cabrera, executive director of PAWS, said protecting animals from violence is also about protecting humanity, and that imposing stiffer penalties for animal cruelty is "a form of society's self-defense."
"What we do to animals, we do to ourselves," she said during Tuesday's hearing on proposed amendments to the country's animal rights law.
Cabrera said scientific evidence show that people who start out being cruel to animals eventually become cruel to their fellow humans.
"We believe that animals are more helpless. They cannot fight back. That's when people who are cruel to animals begin to not appreciate the difference. They gain the confidence to move on and hurt human beings," she added.
Celebrities advocating animal rights also supported calls to increase penalties for animal cruelty, especially in light of recent incidents of violence.
Last week, for instance, a government employee was caught on camera beating up a dog.
Fashion model and TV personality Joey Mead said at the hearing that seeing animals hurt pains her.
"They have feelings. I can see it in their faces. It's amazing how anyone can hurt them. They don't have a voice. It's important for penalties to go higher," she said.
"Being kind to animals, it improves our capability to be kind to the human beings," added actress Heart Evangelista. "I really do hope that we can do something about this."
The committee's chairman, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, said he will endorse the proposed higher penalties for violence against animals.
He believes the existing penalties are inadequate and even laughable. "Parang tatawanan nga lang ng mga salarin itong batas na ito," he told reporters after the hearing.
Pangilinan added, however, that the penalties need to be adjusted depending on the gravity of the offense and the number of animals effected. He asked the DOJ and PAWS to submit recommendations.
The BAI, meanwhile, hopes to have a separate budget for animal welfare. At present, its committee on animal welfare is covered by the overall budget of the agency, said officer-in-charge Rubina Cresencio.
Cresencio added that the agency needs more manpower to be able to put up animal welfare divisions in local governments units, which the law requires.