MANILA - A pair of shark mascots visited the House of Representatives and headquarters of several political parties on Thursday to urge senatorial candidates to pass a measure that would protect the country’s 200 or so shark species.
The mascots were part of the Save Sharks Network Philippines campaign to seek commitment to action that would regulate shark-related activities such as fishing and tourism that contribute to the dwindling shark population.
Armed with placards, copies of a petition and proposed legislative measures, the group first visited the Makabayan headquarters and then the Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM) headquarters in Quezon City.
Senatorial candidate and former sectoral lawmaker Neri Colmenares welcomed the “sharks” and listened to the group explain that while the House already passed a bill regulating the catching, sale, purchase and possession of sharks and other related fish like rays and chimaeras, the Senate has yet to approve a proposed version by Sen. Risa Hontiveros.
Save Sharks Network Philippines is hoping that those who win in the senatorial race this year would help vote for the passage of the proposed measure.
At the Makabayan headquarters, the mascots – a blue shark and a white-spotted wedgefish – danced to the tune of “Baby Shark” with Colmenares.
SUPPORT FROM SENATORIAL CANDIDATES
Colmenares said he would support the measure, especially since he also authored a bill on the protection of marine mammals when he was still Bayan Muna representative.
“Ito 'yung mga bills na wala dapat resistance and opposition…Pero ito dapat mag-unite ang lahat dito. Because it’s about our fellow creatures. It does not really take much from us na suportahan ito but it takes much from our humanity 'pag hindi suportahan ito,” Colmenares said.
(This is the kind of bill that should not get any resistance and opposition. We should unite on this because it’s about our fellow creatures. It does not really take much from us to support it but it takes much from our humanity if we don’t support it.)
Asked how he would convince lawmakers if he wins, Colmenares said: “Naiisip ng iba na kasamahan ko sa Kongreso na hindi naman nagge-generate 'yan ng boto pero there are certain things that you do not because it is an electoral issue… Secondly, ang impact nito long-lasting. Pag nasira ang ecosystem sa ating karagatan grabe ang impact nun… sa ating food [supply].”
(Some of my colleagues in Congress might think that this will not generate votes but there are certain things that you do not because it is an electoral issue. Secondly, the impact of this is long-lasting. If the marine ecosystem is destroyed, it will have a huge impact on our food [supply].)
PLM, who was represented by Ron Pedrosa, also expressed support for the campaign. PLM is fielding Leody de Guzman for the senatorial elections.
The “sharks” also visited the headquarters of Otso Diretso, the opposition slate, and the administration-backed Hugpong ng Pagbabago. However, only staff members received the petition.
“We want them to commit post-election scenario. The moment they win, they have to prioritize the conservation of sharks,” Vince Cinches of the Save Sharks Network secretariat said. “We targeted political parties because we want it to be an organizational agenda.”
Mo Maguyon, the group’s spokesperson for the activity, said they were happy with the support given by PLM and Makabayan candidate Colmenares.
WHY SHARKS ARE THREATENED
While sharks are often portrayed in media as strong predators, many of them are either facing extinction or are endangered, according to the group.
Only 19 species of sharks in the Philippines are protected under the Philippine Fisheries Code. But Maguyon said the law is not being fully enforced.
The main threats to sharks are the popularity of various kinds of sharks oil, sharksfin soup and dumplings.
“We don’t need to patronize sharks fin soup, it does not have any nutritional value. All the associated health benefits around sharkfin soup is a myth. That’s one of the main drivers why we are having problems and our shark population is dwindling,” Cinches said.
Conserving sharks is especially important for Filipinos because their existence has an effect on food, livelihood and the fact that the Philippines is “the epicenter of global marine biodiversity,” Cinches said.
Maguyon explained: “If you remove [sharks], the fish they are eating will grow more and the fish that those [bigger ones] are eating will grow less.”
This would reduce the population of smaller fish that are often sold in the markets, he said.
Cinches also pointed out that keeping sharks alive would boost tourism and the local economy in places like Donsol in Sorsogon and Malapascua Island in Cebu.
Unlike smaller fish, sharks produce fewer offspring and reproduce only once a year or once every couple of years, he added. “Definitely if you catch them, it will take them longer to replenish [their population].”
WHAT FILIPINOS CAN DO
Maguyon said Filipinos can support the conservation of sharks by signing their online petition in the Bataris website and by writing to senators to take action on Hontiveros' bill.
She said Filipinos should also stop supporting establishments that serve real sharksfin soup.
“You usually see them [sharks] in their tanks,” she said.