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Saturday, April 13, 2024

One Animal Welfare PH

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Animal welfare advocates have been clamoring for changes in existing animal welfare policies. While the Philippines is one of the Asian countries that adopted an animal welfare law, particularly in 1998, the said law and its recent amendment in 2013 have been unresponsive to the overwhelming concerns about cruelty, maltreatment, and neglect of animals.

Social media has been instrumental in bringing about these issues and it seems that the problem comes from factors relating to the effectiveness of implementing the law, awareness, and the lack of a comprehensive national program to promote animal welfare.

The AKF’s Taal Volcano Emergency Response and Rescue in 2020. (AKF file photo.)

In July 2022, the Animal Kingdom Foundation, through Congresswoman Bernadette Herrera, refiled House Bill (HB) No. 1396 entitled The Revised Animal Welfare Act of the Philippines, creating the Animal Welfare Bureau under the Department of Agriculture to Institutionalize and Strengthen the Implementation, Govern its Operation, and Enforcement. Fast forward to today, a total of 12 lawmakers, 2 Senators, and 10 Representatives have filed similar bills. This only shows that the growing consciousness of the Filipino Community about the welfare of animals is felt and understood by our esteemed lawmakers. Senator Grace Poe herself is championing the Senate version of the Bill under Senate Bill (SB) 2458 which aims to repeal the existing Republic Act No 8485 as Amended by Republic Act No 10631.

To ensure a definite mandate and a focused agency, the creation of the Animal Welfare Bureau is proposed to be created under SB 2458. This will significantly address confusing and scattered implementation and enforcement of the law. Also, a national animal welfare program, which is currently absent, is expected to be adopted in this law. This will help unify various programs to promote animal welfare holistically and efficiently as one country.

An AKF staff rescuing a dog with a medical issue. (AKF file photo.)

As the bills filed seek to strengthen existing animal welfare standards, policies, guidelines, and regulations, improving and strengthening the implementation and enforcement of the law should also be in place. SB 2458 seeks to put in place effective monitoring and supervision by ensuring a well-defined enforcement mechanism along with a defined role of the local government units (LGUs) and the barangays especially in responding to cases and violations. Protection Orders are also put in place to ensure immediate relief, response, and removal of animals who are victims of cruelty.

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Additionally, SB 2458 defines a set of stronger penalties in the event of a violation, expressly also prohibiting dog meat trade, among others.

In light of experiences of animal welfare advocates in the Taal Volcano eruption in 2020, a provision on emergency response was considered to address animal rescue concerns in times of calamity.

The growing positive acceptance of spay and neuter makes it also ripe to include a mandatory spay and neuter of stray dogs and cats as a necessary program partner for the rabies program. Otherwise, the current practice in impounding operations will continue, with stray dogs being rounded up indiscriminately, without regard to whether they are vaccinated or neutered. These same dogs that received vaccinations or were spayed/neutered are eventually killed in pounds, resulting in a waste of resources, for both government and non-government organizations (NGOs).

Atty Heidi Marquez-Caguioa speaking at the National Forum to End the Dog Meat Trade on Jan 26, 2024 at Sequioa Hotel. Forum participants were from the Bureau of Animal Industry, Philippine National Police Directorate for Operations, CIDG, Department of Interior and Local Government, Local Government Units representatives, Soi Dog Foundation, and Animal Kingdom Foundation (AKF). (AKF file photo.)

Globally, the One Welfare concept which serves to highlight the interconnections between animal welfare, human well-being, and their physical and social environment is being fostered to improve human and animal welfare internationally. Along with the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty, these concepts recognize the effect of one action on another. The Philippines should not be left behind in the animal welfare conversation. As it grows, we should be at the forefront of promoting and protecting animal welfare.

Indeed, it’s about time! It is time for the voices of the animals to be heard. Today is an opportunity for a change in the way we treat animals to be taken seriously. We believe that through the passage of the Revised Animal Welfare Bill, we can envision a more effective and responsive society in respecting, upholding, and protecting the welfare of animals.

About the Author: HEIDI MARQUEZ-CAGUIOA is the President and Program Director for Animal Kingdom Foundation. She is a practicing lawyer by profession apart from being an animal welfare advocate.. As AKF’s Director, she leads AKF’s various campaigns including the successful campaign against the Dog Meat Trade. She spearheaded AKF’s Cage-Free campaign and Fish Welfare Campaign in the Philippines.

Heidi is the first legal practitioner who has brought a new perspective into the legal profession by fighting for the cause of animal welfare and serving as their voice leading anti-cruelty campaigns, promoting animal welfare education, ensuring the prosecution of animal abuse and maltreatment and most importantly, the introduction of various animal welfare policies and legislations.

Heidi envisions that whatever work she does for the promotion of animal welfare now, will help bring a better tomorrow for the animals and the environment.

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