Saturday, August 03, 2013


NOT all creatures are created equal.

The coffee grounds the husband brought back from a café gave me an idea to fertilize jackfruit trees growing outside the uncle’s bedroom.

These dregs from brewed coffee will fertilize the ground and waft a nice scent for the 70-year-old grandfather of my nieces, who unrepentantly drinks his coffee black twice a day.

No, better save the “langka” tree that’s dying in front of the house, decided the uncle.

I found the tree. Someone had hacked it at the base.

The canopy was still lush. Yet, perhaps of its gaping scar, the tree has yet to bear fruit. The Bicol-born uncle likes to cook jackfruit with coconut milk and black “labahita”.

I started setting aside kitchen waste to fertilize the tree. Fruit peel, seeds, and vegetable scraps placed in our small garden in Cebu makes the thin soil richer and plants grow better without smelling unpleasant and upsetting the neighbors.

Every day, I left peel and seeds from mango, rambutan, avocado, vegetable scraps, and eggshells. I hope it will be good for the “langka” tree, as well as for a relative who wants to relive his childhood in a homecooked dish.

Besides, this means less trash to be collected for the landfill.

Then one morning, I saw a note nailed at the base of the tree. Why do some treat a living tree as a message board?

I read the note: “Lost: PET CAT. Please return to…” Below the appeal and contact information was a photograph of a black and white cat with a collar.

Cats are great wanderers. Polygamous, too. Cats have been walking in and out of my life. I think they take it for granted that their humans will always react intelligently when they show up: skip the questions and have a meal ready.

Some pets, though, never come home.

Like trees, animals face hazards in the city. The greatest threat comes from those who exploit people’s desire for pets.

Recently, nearly 150 birds were abandoned at Magallanes St. in Cebu City. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) took the birds for safekeeping.

Even in a colorless police report, the names of the rescued birds conjure paradise: African lovebirds, hanging parakeets, golden finches, coleto birds, tarictic hornbills, crows and lories.

The news photos and videos are harsh: beating against tiny prisons, frantic wings, bold feathers and small bodies swirl in the mayhem created by an impersonal malice.

Something scared away those who would have profited from selling the birds at P300 a pair.

For other animals, rescue comes too late. The illegal trade of “exotic” animals is a news staple. Blue-naped parrots and mynas go for P3,000 to P5,000 a bird. Someone was given only P100 to feed birds for a week. Nothing personal, just business.

Even before they can be sold to local buyers or smuggled out of the country, the animals die from hunger, stress, maltreatment. Early this July, a DENR team raided a house in Tondo. Only 14 forest turtles were still alive. Carcasses of dozens of endangered animals littered the place. The mynas, parrots and crocodiles were reportedly killed to stop them from making noise. The more “valuable” Palawan bearcats, leopard cats and otter must have been first to be sold.

The treatment of animals as commodities extends to the usual animals sold as pets or stolen from a family to become another family’s pet. With authorities either too busy or too indifferent to care about the “small fry,” it remains to be a personal obligation for us to be ethical in acquiring pets.

Many abused or abandoned animals wait to be adopted from the city pound, animal shelters, and animal welfare organizations. Yet, I see more and more of these handmade posters asking for a lost pet to be returned.

The missing cat looks like a lot of the black-and-whites exploring the neighborhood. But the collar on its neck reminds me that one family can describe with certainty if this cat is a white one with black spots or a black cat with white spots. For its owners, every pet is singular.

I walked away from the uncle’s “langka” tree, thinking how the impersonal and indifferent is king in this jungle.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 4, 2013 issue of the Sunday editorial page column, “Matamata”

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