"Loss of Taguig park cats sparks outcry" - headline of national newspaper, Inquirer Philippines on Feb 19, 2018
"Outrage over 20 missing cats" - top story of Manilastandard.net on Feb 20, 2018
More BGC cat stories in national TV channels in the following days, including GMA Network and ABS-CBN.
I was made aware of this outcry over the removal of cats from a park adjacent to Shangri-La at the Fort Hotel when someone in a messenger app circulated an emotionally charged Facebook page about it.
One Bonifacio Park was opened in December 2015. It is an amenity that is much welcomed by residents like me. For one, it provides a green access between Bonifacio High Street and Crescent Park west, a residential area in the western part of Fort Bonifacio. It is a good place to get a respite from the traffic polluted streets in BGC.
In the first year of its opening, only a handful of cats were seen in the park. They were super adorable and attracted the care of many passerbys. I found them cute and was happy that they were there so that we would not have mice in the park. At the same time, I did not interact with them because I had been bitten by ticks before, and I suspect that the ticks were from cats.
I took this photo in August 2017, when the Book Stop was still located in Bonifacio High Street
As time went by, I noticed more and more cats in the park. I began to feel uneasy about the presence of the cats in the park. They sometimes occupied a large space in the park when they waited to be fed, and I would not want to go near that space. I also believe that many parents with young children would not let their kids go near that area because of hygiene as well as safety concerns.
Around November 2017, the Book Stop was moved from Bonifacio High Street to Bonifacio One Park. One month later, one could sometimes spot a few cats sleeping on the book shelves. They looked very cute, and I took a photo of them, but somehow something bothered me, and I did not keep the photo.
Photo above: The Book Stop was moved to One Bonifacio Park. This photo was taken before the pillows and milk bottles were placed inside it.
Then soon, I saw pillows placed inside the Book Stop, presumably to make life comfortable for the cats, but books were displaced. Furthermore, milk bottles and other food items were placed in a cardboard box inside the Book Stop, apparently to feed the cats. It was no wonder that the cat population exploded, to the degree that they became bothersome to people who passed by the park.
After a while, the cardboard box and its contents were torn and broken by the cats. They became quite unsightly, and the food remnants became a source of nuisance.
When I saw a post in a messenger app that referred me to a Facebook post about the removal of stray cats at the Bonifacio One Park, I got the impression that the worst had happened to the cats. "I could not hold back my grief, my panic, my heart sank to my stomach....it is the Lunar New Year today, but I feel no sense of happiness, it feels like the day my daddy died..." (full message reproduced above).
This Facebook post was so powerful that an outrage was sparked against the authorities who removed the stray cats. All the national media reported about it. Many took the side of the Facebook post's author.
Then the PR management of the establishment concerned, Shangri-La at the Fort Hotel, countered the allegations. They issued a press release, saying that some of the cats were adopted by their employees, and others were relocated to another place, and that no cat was killed. An animal concern group asked for proof that the cats were indeed adopted and relocated.
When one reads the comments on the articles reporting this issue, one can see a lot of angry words on both sides. Only a few were constructive suggestions, asking the authorities to offer the public a chance to adopt the cats before removing the cats. There was a lot of animosity and some comments descended into personal attacks and name-calling. It was ugly.
At the risk of antagonizing people who feel passionate about the cats, I would say that it was the wrong kind of human intervention that created this tragedy from the start. It was fine that cats came to BGC to look for food. Most people will agree that it is good that some cats are here, as they will catch mice so we do not have to apply dangerous chemicals. However, actively feeding them had caused the cat population to reach a level that many of us considered too invasive of the limited public space that we have. Too many people enjoy interacting with the cats, but do not care for them enough to take them home. Instead, public space is used for keeping their pets.
The fate of the cats was sealed when their patrons started turning the Book Stop into a cat home. They ignored the need of other users of the park, the owner and supporters of the Book Stop.
At first glance, it may seem that the outcry was caused by too much love for the cats. However, if we think more about it, I think it was because there was not enough love for the furry animals. Not enough love to take them home to care for them. Not enough love to think for the future of the cats, and to restrain ourselves from feeding them just in order to get instant gratification from the interactions.
* * *
Like the author of the powerful Facebook post, I also experienced a heartbreaking event recently. At the end of last year, I received news from a friend that an orphanage that she had been running for many years had to close. The reason? long delay in processing the adoption cases by the authorities. This made it too costly to care for an orphan. It was hard for the orphanage to raise funds from donors, as donors felt that the impact of their donation was small.
It was a dreadful news. I was saddened not only by the closure of the orphanage, but the thought that orphans in all of the orphanages in the Philippines have to endure long waiting time before they can reach people who are ready to give them the love and attention of parents. In most orphanages, the resources are stretched. Babies have to wear soiled diapers for hours. Toys, if available, are worn out and not cleaned that often. There is insufficient attention, let alone love, to give to each child.
I do not know the real reason for the long processing time, which can be over two years in some cases, but from the information that I obtained from my friend, it seems that it used to be the court system that delayed the processing of adoption cases. Not only did adoption cases had to wait in line with all other court cases, adoption cases were often handled in the same way as trial cases as if it were a criminal or civil case where prospective adoptive parents were interrogated as if they were on trial.
Then the procedures were changed, and the Department of Social Welfare was given the authority to approve adoption applications. Long delays continued because the social workers were afraid of making mistakes and asked for repeated assessments of each case.
Now a law is being considered to revert the approving authority back to the court. But according to people running the orphanages, the new law does not provide any solution to shorten processing time.
There is no cute photo to show babies languishing in orphanages, no moving photos to tell people that the babies do not get cuddled when they are crying, thus no outcry on how these babies are delayed from getting the care and attention from people who are ready to love them as if their own children.
These babies were not only abandoned once, they are again let down by the society. Their cries are not heard, and no one speaks for them.
If I were a real journalist, I know which subject I would prefer to write about.