October 27, 2004 (STAR) By Wilson Lee Flores - Please allow me to vehemently deny the false rumor that I am a carabao thief! Let me share with you what happened last month at the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), when two NBI officers confronted me with the charge that I, Wilson Flores, had stolen a carabao in a certain barrio in Pangasinan and therefore violated P.D. 533 or the Anti-Cattle Rustling Law. They can accuse me of being a tax evader, smuggler, subversive, or even a rapist, but not the ridiculous charge of stealing a carabao!

I was tempted to yell at the two NBI officers, "You thick-faced sons of a carabao! This is an injustice! Just because I don’t have the looks of a Tom Cruise, do I look like a carabao thief? Just because I don’t have the billions of San Miguel’s Danding Cojuangco or Zobel de Ayala, do I have to steal a carabao? *&%^#@#%*%#!"

Why be a carabao-napper even? For farm work, milk and free fertilizers?

They accused me of stealing, but in fact, I’m now gifting the English vocabulary a new word – carabao-napper. This is not Lito Lapid or Melanie Marquez’s carabao English. Since a person who steals a kid is called a kidnapper and a person who steals a car is called a carnapper, then the NBI agents are in effect accusing me of being a carabao-napper, di ba?

Our semi-feudal and topsy-turvy Philippine society is often absurd and funny to those who think, and tragic to those who feel, that’s why we often shake our heads like a weary carabao and say, "Only in the Philippines!"

Don’t you think it’s carabao shit that many of the bull-headed high and mighty in politics, the military, police and other sectors are rarely punished for their milking our state coffers of gazillions? But how come ordinary citizens like us can be dragged into court for stealing just one carabao or making "kupit" a few thousand pesos? That is unfair carabao justice!

My driver said one carabao costs P17,000 in his hometown in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. Holy carabao! That’s not even enough for a night of carousing in a high-class nightclub for many of our wild bulls and toros in government!

Actually this was an old case filed in 1996, and the only reason the NBI had only now confronted me with this was due to a friend, sculptor Juan Sajid Imao and his wife Cielo, who were nominating me for an award which required that I submit an NBI clearance. When the two NBI officers asked me to enter their office, and told me there was a slight problem with my clearance request, I felt like a carabao lost in a roast beef restaurant! I was worried there might be a crazy guy among our country’s 84-million population with the same name as mine, who was a rapist, murderer or a big-time funds embezzler.

Thank goodness, there was indeed a certain Wilson Flores of Pangasinan whose only crime was having stolen a carabao in a rural barrio in 1996 with a case filed in the Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Binalonan, Pangasinan! I felt like a carabao who had escaped the slaughterhouse after asking the two NBI officers, "Do I look stupid enough to steal a carabao?" The two NBI officers smiled and gave me my clearance faster than a carabao can shout, "Moo"!

Who was that carabao-napper with the same name as mine in Pangasinan province? Why did he steal a carabao in 1996? Maybe he just wanted to eat roast beef carabao! A singer friend of mine heard this case and asked, "What did the Pangasinan carabao tell the late Elvis Presley? The animal sang to the tune of the song Love Me Tender – Roast me tender, roast me true, roast beef carabao!"

Despite our politicians’ decades of gross neglect of rural farmers, farm mechanization in irrigated farms had caused many farmers to replace carabaos with hand tractors. However, farmers in the uplands and rain-fed farming regions still favor carabaos. Perhaps because they’re not only easier to direct on high terrains, but because carabaos use no expensive fuel and also give free fertilizers. Was carabao-napper Wilson Flores one of the many impoverished farmers now victimized by the ongoing rampant rice smuggling in this country, forcing him to steal a carabao for his rice farm out of frustration and desperation?

Our semi-feudal Philippine society is truly a funny place for those of us who think, but tragic for those who feel. Could it also be possible to liken this carabao-napper with the same name as mine with the 19th century character Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables? Jean Valjean was jailed for 19 years by French authorities and hounded by the law for the petty crime of stealing a loaf of bread, an act which forever scarred his whole life. Was this carabao-napper a poor but filial son, whose widowed mother was very sick and who stole the carabao to give his mother some milk and meat? Did they jail this poor carabao-napper, and for how many months or years?

Maybe it was uncalled for when I described to the NBI officers that stealing a carabao was stupid, for this animal represents an asset and real livelihood possibilities for the many rural poor. About 99 percent of the more than three million carabaos or water buffaloes in the country are raised and bred by small-hold farmers.

Who Stole All The Tamaraws?

Coincidentally, our fiscal crisis republic just recently hosted the October 20 to 23 event, "7th World Buffalo Congress", at Shangri-La Manila. A primemover was the International Buffalo Federation (IBF). Did our leaders discuss our many carabao problems in the Philippines, or was this just a series of bull sessions and a grand party for foreign guests?

In this era of the shrinking pan de sal and the shrinking peso purchasing power, it is sad that our estimated three million Philippine carabaos also suffer from declining physical size and growth rate due to poor breeding practices and other problems. In 1989, then Senator Joseph Estrada authored one of his few bills – Senate Bill 1165 entitled, "An Act Creating the Philippine Carabao Center to Propagate and Promote the Philippine Carabao and for Other Purposes". Erap denied that his support for the carabaos had anything to do with his supposedly carabao English. Is this Philippine Carabao Center making a big positive difference to save the carabaos and help our poor rural farmers?

Another problem of our carabaos is the vanishing Tamaraw specie, the largest endangered land animal in the Philippines, which has been stolen from us by our politicians’ failure to stop shameless greed and environmental degradation.

In 1900, American military officers suppressing the Philippine Revolution organized the "Military Order of the Carabao" at the Army & Navy Club by the Manila Bay, an organization which today includes officers of the US military who served in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. In the 1900s when American military forces fought with Filipino insurgents, there were about 10,000 heads of these unique Tamaraw pygmy water buffalos freely roaming all over the island province of Mindoro where the Tamaraws are endemic.

Today, the Tamaraws have been stolen from the landscape of Mindoro. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 1996 listed the Tamaraw as one of the 10 most endangered species on earth. What is the government and other sectors doing about this grave crisis?

First studied by Dr. Pierre Heude in 1888, the Tamaraw is a unique animal a little smaller than the carabao or Asian water buffalo. The dexterity and strong short legs of its bulky body enable Tamaraws to traverse through dense tropical jungles or climb up steep mountains. Tamaraws are unique for their V-shaped horns, while the horns of carabaos are curve-shaped.

Many people call it wild and aggressive, a favorite prey of adventurous hunters. Unabated hunting, coupled by the destruction of the animals’ natural habitat drove the declining number of Tamaraws to a few remote areas in the mountains.

The tragedy of the harassed Tamaraws reminded me of my former Ateneo teacher Atty. Charlemagne Yu, now president of Empire East Land, who said he was a former volunteer who taught the Mangyan minority their legal rights in the face of lowland settlers who drove them into the mountains.

The 20th century influx of people in Mindoro caused the indiscriminate hunting of the Tamaraw for food and livelihood. Worse, thrill-seeking hunters and poachers plundered Mindoro wildlife, with elite Manila hunters in the 1960s and 1970s using high-powered weapons to hunt the wild Tamaraws as sport and took home their heads as trophies.

From 10,000 heads in the 1900s, the number of Tamaraws dropped to only 369 heads by the late 1980s. Reports said that by 1996, Tamaraws were sighted in only three areas – Mt. Iglit, Mt. Calavite, and the area of the Sablayon Penal Settlement. Today, there are estimated to be only 20 Tamaraws in the wild. How can we reverse the generations of non-stop stealing of this unique Tamaraw, which is found only in the Philippines?

Comedy & Tragedy Of Carabao-Napper & Kidnap Victim

In September 2002, Secretary Richard Gordon and this writer arrived from a China tourism promotions tour. At the airport, his aide Judee Aguilar showed him a summary of recent crimes which incredibly included the kidnapping of a certain businessman Wilson Lee Flores in Butuan City in Mindanao. This kidnap victim paid ransom and was released. The Tourism Secretary was surprised and I was shocked.

Though I’m not a poor farmer who stole a carabao in rural Pangasinan and neither am I a wealthy tycoon kidnapped in Mindanao, I couldn’t help but empathize with their tragic plight. What fears, anguish and untold family sufferings did they endure? These two persons who shared my name remind me about the fates of those poor fellas who are punished by their penury and also those hardworking entrepreneurs whose hard-won success are endangered by criminality.

Why are we no longer shocked by these kinds of negative news? Why are our leaders so bull-headed, their minds and their rhetoric often still full of carabao dung and crap? As an ordinary citizen with a peaceful existence, I am angered by the massive poverty, social injustice, shameless corruption, rampant criminality and other iniquities which have seemingly become so normal to our Philippine society.

We should subvert the cynical, inequitable and decaying status quo with vigorous economic, social, cultural, moral and even political reforms. We should not allow ourselves to be victims of cruel fate. Let us radically change the destiny of Philippine society – so that there shall be no more kidnappings and extortions by corrupt men in uniform or by bandits in politics, no more swarms of street kids begging at night under the rains, no more mass exodus of our talented youth overseas. And also so that there shall be no more poor farmer anywhere in the Philippines so desperate that he has to steal a carabao!

* * * Thanks for all your messages. Comments and suggestions are welcome at wilson_lee_flores@yahoo.com, wilson_lee_flores@hotmail.com, wilson_lee_flores@newyork.com, or P.O. Box 14277, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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