Rochelle Bonifacio-Prado, "Save the Pawikan" Petition Starter
We woke up to an overcast morning last August 12, 2013 in Guimaras, Iloilo. My husband and I, along with our three children, had gone around Jordan the previous day seeing mango plantations, visiting the Trappist monastery, climbing up a lighthouse and capping off with surprisingly good Mango pizza. That morning, we were hoping to find more treasures at sea. Much as we wanted to explore the waters on our own and have the children snorkel around discovering underwater caves, the imminent downpour did not allow us ample time to do so. Our best recourse was to hire a boatman who assured us we could go island hopping despite the rain. This was the weekend before Typhoon Maring hit the country.
Among the sites the boatman recommended was a place they called “Turtle Island” which, apparently, was a name coined by some resort owners to promote it to tourists. Eventually, the name stuck. We learned from DENR-Penro Guimaras later on that this is part of Sitio Lusay in Jordan. Our boatman informed us that this Marine Sanctuary was frequented by some egg-laying sea turtles, but that all except one had managed to escape a few nights back when their net enclosure had been slashed by a group of activists. As divers, this was a curious story for me and my husband. We both wondered why sea turtles would be kept in net enclosures if the place was indeed a sanctuary for nesting. We had imagined a transient “home” where these Pawikan could safely lay their eggs and swim back to sea, as is the natural course for these beautiful creatures. We wanted for our children to see it that way.
“It doesn’t look very happy,” our six-year old daughter said upon seeing the Pawikan which one of the local residents untied from a pole of a make-shift hut. It was the first time she saw a sea turtle. Our nine-year old son agreed, “It even has scratches on its shell, and is that a wound on his eye? It looks sad.” The man placed it on the sand right next to us and encouraged the children to hold it. Our eldest son shook his head and said, “No”, remembering what we had told him about not touching the sensitive sea turtle.
“Pwede niyo pong hawakan yan, hindi mangangagat yan. Pwede nyo rin buhatin,” the man told us. Politely, we said, “Mas mabuti po siguro kung hindi hinahawakan at binubuhat kasi po natatakot sila. Bakit hindi nalang po ibalik sa dagat?” To which he replied, “Dito lang yan, pinapakain naman yan. Tsaka pinupuntahan ng mga turista.” Sadly, it seemed they were not aware of the harm they were inflicting on it and the impact it had on marine ecology. But sadly, too, we were one of those tourists at that very minute.
Other boats had begun to arrive and we told our boatman we were ready to leave. He said there was a fee of Php 5.00 per person for seeing the Pawikan and taking pictures. My husband said, “We didn’t even take pictures.” So, we took a photo and gave each other a knowing look. We had come as tourists and paid our toll. What to do now? Certainly not NOTHING. That shot was not going to be one taken in vain.
Back home, August 14, we were still talking about the Pawikan. It was unfortunate that the children had to see it for the first time in captivity. “We didn’t do anything,” our son said. He was right. We didn’t. But we still could. Maybe that was the fortunate thing. They took out their crayons and bond paper and started drawing their campaign posters to free the Pawikan. Not knowing specifically to whom it should be brought, my husband and I decided a petition would give it a louder voice. We remembered seeing Change.Org featured on the news and gave it a try.
Family and friends began signing and sharing our petition on Change.org. It was inspiring to see many take time to read and write down their own reasons for supporting the cause. A good friend now based in New York, Karina Tenaillon, even suggested I send an email attaching the petition to key people in the government aside from DENR-PAWB, especially those with environmental advocacies. After a month without word from the addressees though, it became a bit disheartening. Still, there was always an email from her that we should just keep pushing for it. Just keep swimming. How apt. We were all crossing our fingers that the Pawikan could hang on much longer.
Last September 12, I received an email from Christine Roque, Campaigner from Change.Org who informed me that they wanted to help the petition reach a wider audience. I got in touch with her and through text messages and phone calls, discussed possible ways of making it heard by the proper authorities including planning to deliver the petition directly to PAWB. It didn’t take long before the signatures shot up from a hundred to a thousand - several FB users shared the petition page and I received a message of support from Nix Cue, co-founder of Save the Philippine Seas (SPS) who featured it in their SEANN news report on Facebook. Last week, DENR–PENRO Guimaras, Mr. Jesse Vego, got wind of it through a friend’s FB account, and with his good office released the Pawikan last September 21, 2013 during the International Coastal Clean-up in Guimaras. View the photos here.
Looks like the overcast finally gave way to clearer skies. We broke the news to the children this morning at breakfast. We did the dance of joy. Grateful to all who signed, shared and supported the cause and DENR-PENRO who took action. Thank YOU. The vigilance goes on. Meanwhile, we hope our friend is rockin’ it at sea and lives to be a hundred and fifty.
Escorting the Pawikan to freedom. (Photo by DENR PENRO Guimaras)
By Inday Espina-Varona, Campaigns Director, Change.org
Violeta de Guzman comes from a family of doctors, many of whom serve indigent Filipinos. She knows about the urgent needs that crop up when poor families have to cope illness. So when doctors and medical workers at the country’s premier children’s hospital sent out a help call to foil threatened eviction, she and friends spent hours ranting on their Facebook pages.
The freelance writer went to bed angry. Helpless, hopeless were the words that ran through her mind. Violeta knew she cared. Her friends cared. But what chances did the poor have against the combined might of big business and government? How could they win a 30-year struggle?
Then she remembered signing a petition on Change.org, the world’s largest petition platform. Violeta says she suddenly felt empowered, knowing a medium existed for people to merge energies and passions.
The following day she started a petition on Change.org, calling for a halt to the eviction of the Philippine Children’s Medical Center and the turnover of a deed of donation for the land the hospital stands on. The petition now has more than 7,300 signatures.
Violeta and her friends, with some 50 health activists went on October 1 to deliver their petition to the National Housing Authority, a government office mandated to help poor Filipinos own their homes.
They found the gates of the agency barred. It took plenty of noise on social media and radio news programs for an official to come down and receive the petition through the barred gates.
“I wasn’t surprised,” says Violeta. “I was ready for that. They’ve been bull-headed about the whole thing. PCMC has been begging for security — for 30 years.”
An earlier Malacanang assurance on non-eviction prompted de Guzman to call for an initial victory, while asking fellow petitioners to step up the campaign and exercise vigilance.
She says subsequent statements by officials validated her caution. “They probably gave the reassurance as people are already angry enough without adding this,” Violeta notes, referring to a running scandal involving pork and other discretionary and lump funds.
“They might just be waiting it out and then pounce once we let down our guard,” she warns. “They is why we must not stop pushing for the turnover of a deed of donation.”
PCMC has been asking the NHA for decades to donate the land it occupies. The agency says the hospital owes more than P1 billion for unpaid lease. It also says it only wants a fraction of the land that is not allotted for the hospital. The disputed portion is set to be occupied as part of a business development district. The agency says it will guarantee an area for affected PCMC facilities.
Supporters of the beleaguered institution, however, say that in the scheme of funds lost to corruption, snatching a fraction of land with medical facilities shows the government’s warped priorities.
Rovik Obanil of Quezon City says people pay taxes to fund public services. “Given the mind-boggling amounts lost to Tanda, Sexy, Pogi and their ilk, who is going to believe that gov’t can’t find the funds to keep PCMC where it is?”
The three names are code names allegedly given by operators to legislators linked to a P10-billion, missing-pork scandal.
PCMC is not just for poor people. Even the middle class trusts it as an affordable hospital that provides top-notch service. But most, including doctors who once trained at PCMC, see the threat of eviction as a direct assault on poor patients.
Billy Wooton of Cabanatuan City, a former intern, says: “I know the hardships of poor Filipinos.I saw the hardship of doctors just to save them.”
Antonio Salvador of Batangas City undertook pediatric surgery training in PCMC. “It is the best training program for pediatric surgery because the cases are well distributed in all the disciplines. I know PCMC has helped a lot of people because of their revolutionary ways to treat children despite of the lack of government support, a testament to their management skills.”
“One very good and much-needed children’s hospital vs yet ANOTHER “development”? I think the choice is very, very clear,” says Mary Ann Marchadesch of Pasig City.
PCMC champion Pia Alonzo of Santa Macela credits hospital staff for saving her eldest child: “First hand I saw how congress played around with their budget, at one point having residents get P1,000 stipend per month even when they do straight 36-hour duty. And I’ve seen so many deaths, especially in the ICU (intensive care unit) when indigent patients can’t afford medicines. And I’ve seen those who survived who may not have made it without PCMC.”