By John Noel E. Herrera
The return of the Pasungay (bullfight) Festival of San Joaquin, Iloilo four years after it was halted due to opposition from some animal advocates and the COVID-19 pandemic, drew mixed reactions from the public.
In a Facebook post, Animal Kingdom Foundation, a non-government organization (NGO), condemned the return of the century-old tradition as it is one form of animal cruelty and prohibited by law.
“We were able to stop this century-old practice in 2019, and then this year, it is back again. Pasungay is a tradition of cruelty, of callout entertainment made in the suffering of the voiceless,” Animal Kingdom Foundation said in a Facebook post.
“Under the current Animal Welfare Law, animal fights – including horses and bulls, are seen as cruel acts and are hence prohibited with heavy fines and sanctions for violators. Abusing animals will not bring honor to any culture. Stop using tradition as an alibi,” it added.
Some people also said that the festival is a form of cruelty that is disguised as entertainment.
“Seeing these animals torturing each other to fight for their lives is not entertaining. Tradition is not an excuse for animal cruelty,” Chie Santos commented on Daily Guardian’s Facebook post.
“Gin-balik naman ni nila ang Pasungay, kung sila man bi da butang sa tunga kag paawayon… Daw sa wala lang ni sa ila, pero ang kaluluoy amu ang mga karbaw kag baka,” Mira Dedios also said.
While some condemned the event, others were happy with the return of the annual bullfight festival to the limelight.
“Do you all really think that the farmers who owned these animals would want something terrible to happen to their carabaos? They will never jeopardize their carabaos to some extent as it is one of their lifelines,” John Secreto of San Joaquin, Iloilo said.
Some individuals from San Joaquin also compared the tradition to the more popular cockfighting (sabong or bulang), saying that it is even more cruel and violent compared to the Pasungay Festival.
They said that the derby is supervised by experts and owners to ensure the safety and life of the buffalos. The animals are even treated if they are injured during the joust.
“Ano gid bi anda na-ano sa Pasungay kay daw mas lala pa gid gani ang bulang. May naga-check man ja ra kang mga karbaw nga naga-intra pagkatapos kang kada match,” alias Gerald said.
“After pasungay gina alagaan man ang baka or karabaw. Gina painom bulong kag na treat man ang pilas if may dyan. Ang pasungay dayon ga dara pride and honor sa owner na kag sa animal mismo,” alias Joy added.
Iloilo Provincial Veterinarian Dr. Darel Tabuada confirmed that he sent a veterinarian to the Pasungay to monitor the animals participating in the fight.
Tabuada said the animals did not suffer major or fatal injuries during the event.
“Ang sa amon lang nga part is to ensure ang safety of animals nga ara sa venue. (As per report) no major injuries sa mga sapat nga nag-intra sa Pasungay kag every animal was being checked and addressed by attending veterinarian before and after the events,” he added.
Daily Guardian also tried to reach Kennard Santacera Mondragon, officer-in-charge (OIC) of San Joaquin Municipal Agriculture Office, to ask if the involved animals were safely handled and if the event was compliant with pertinent regulations, but there was no response as of this writing.
On Jan 21, 2023, pairs of carabaos (water buffalo) and cows entertained the public with their battle skills during the Pasungay Festival at the San Joaquin football field.
Officials from the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) also attended the event as they confirmed that the Pasungay Festival “is now one of the intangible cultural properties of the Philippines, as it is registered in the Philippine Registry of Cultural Property.”
Before making the declaration, NCCA Executive Director Oscar Casaysay, whose mother is also a native of San Joaquin, said they came up with a study after the local government unit (LGU) of San Joaquin sent them a letter highlighting the criticisms of the festival.
San Joaquin Mayor Ninfa Garin also said that the festival has been part of the town’s culture and tradition that they inherited from their forefathers, and it is also “based on culture and within the bounds of the law.”