It’s Your Best Friend on a Platter
An Investigative Report on the Operation of Comiles Eatery II in Baguio City
By Christian Co, Ma. Arianne Fatima Gapac, and Hannah Kim
It was another chilly afternoon in Baguio City. Mang Louie (not his real name) was driving around Marcos Highway looking for passengers. Cold and hungry, he decided to enter Comiles Eatery II for his occasional “ulo ng aso,” the specialty of the house.
Upon entering the eatery, he saw Mayor Domogan seated at a table. This was not the first the time he had seen government officials in Comiles, as he had seen policemen and even judges on other days.
For Mang Louie, eating dog meat is a pleasurable habit as it makes him feel warm and energized. However, he eats dog meat dishes only from time to time to avoid high blood pressure.
“Malinis naman yan… basta niluluto. Siguraduhin mo lang na walang gudgod (scabbies),” said Mang Louie. He is not bothered by rumours of sanitary issues concerning rabies. “Kasi niluluto na rin nila kahit may gudgod.”
Photo 1. Located below the ground level, Comiles stands among local eateries and sari-sari stores.
Photo 2. Three streamers mark the entrance of the eatery.
“Basta Baguio, aso agad yan,” he said.
Mang Louie is one of the many customers who patronize Comiles and its dog meat dishes. Located at the underground level of an unpainted, cemented building, the eatery seems inconspicuous except for its large banners with the name COMILES EATERY II displayed outside. Able to accommodate around 50 people, the eatery is mostly visited by men. The employees, mostly female, would not serve dog meat unless asked for. There is no menu displayed, and the counter usually contains pork, chicken, and vegetable dishes.
Photo 3. The counter usually displays pork, chicken, and vegetable dishes.
Comiles under scrutiny
In spite of its popularity among Baguio locals, Comiles Eatery has been put under investigation by the Philippine National Police (PNP), National Bureau of Investigation (NBI), ans Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) such as the Animal Kingdom Foundation (AKF) under the International Wildlife Coalition Trust (IWCT).
Together with the PNP, Charles Wartenberg, President of the AKF, carried out a raid in Comiles in January 2010 wherein five people were arrested and 8.4 kilos of dog meat were confiscated. In Wartenberg’s published online report entitled “Licence to Kill,” the defendants acknowledged that they were selling dog meat but strongly contended that they should not punished. The defendants argued that “the law is based on one whole dog,” and that they served only parts of a dog. They also claimed that any virus of a rabid dog can be eliminated in the cooking process. They finally reasoned that the practice of eating dog meat is “customary and socially accepted.”
These reasons appear very questionable and irrational. For the defendants to say that they must not be punished for serving only parts of a dog is senseless. Dog meat is still dog meat even when they are in pieces. Does anyone expect a dog, a domesticated animal, to be served lechon-style on a large tray? There is no point of escaping the law with the matter of proportions or sizes, for stealing bread is the same as stealing cash.
Photo 4. The spare parts of man’s best friend on a platter served in Comiles eatery.
Photo 5. Chicken served on the right, dog meat dish on the left.
As for the defendants’ claim that viruses found in rabid dogs can be eliminated due to the cooking process, Wartenberg asserts that this is scientifically incorrect. He points out to the death of four-year old Ressia Mae Edoria who died after eating contaminated dog meat in Negros Occidental on December 13, 2005, which he calls “an avoidable death.” Wartenberg holds the death certificate which states that Edoria died due to rabies as a result of ingesting cooked dog meat. However, just like Mang Louie, many people are confident that the preparation and cooking process can get rid of the diseases the animal carries. They must have not heard that dogs, along with cats and bats, are the main carriers of rabies. Also, they probably are not aware of the gravity of the effects and the heavy possibility of dog meat being contaminated or diseased with not only rabies, but, as Wartenberg said, with E.coli, salmonella, hook worms, etc.
It is undeniable that the defendants and many dog meat eaters are convinced that culture justifies the practice of selling and eating dog meat. Just as Mang Louie said, Baguio City has become recognized as the center of dog meat trade. However, the city is not exempt under the law, particularly in Section 6 of the Animal Welfare Act (Republic Act No. 8485), which states that:
It shall be unlawful for any person to torture any animal, to neglect to provide adequate care, sustenance or shelter, or maltreat any animal or to subject any dog or horse to dogfights or horsefights, kill or cause or procure to be tortured or deprived of adequate care, sustenance or shelter, or maltreatment or use the same in research or experiments not expressly authorized by the Committee on Animal Welfare.
The killing of any animal other than cattle pigs, goats, sheep, poultry, rabbits, carabaos, horses, deer and crocodiles is likewise hereby declared unlawful except in the following instances:
(1) When it is done as part of the religious rituals of an established religion or sect or a ritual required by tribal or ethnic custom of indigenous cultural communities; however, leaders shall keep records in cooperation with the Committee on Animal Welfare (underlined for emphasis).
Restaurant eating is not equated to any religious ritual as far as dog meat is concerned. The sale of dog meat especially in restaurants is usually classified as for commercial use or plain business. Unless a religious group or sect holds a ritual which includes killing dogs and eating the slain dogs’ meat inside Comiles, it is clear that dogs should not be butchered even for the sake of eating. And so far, dog meat eating in restaurants is more of a routine rather than a cultural or religious practice.
What about government officials and policemen eating dog meat? The Anti-Rabies Act (Republic Act No. 9482) states in Section 7 that local government units (LGUs), in their respective localities, shall “prohibit the trade of dogs for meat.” They are responsible for overseeing that such operations do not exist, and yet they are also recognized as the clients of the operation itself. It is because they hold on to the idea that culture surpasses the law.
These government officials do not see that their cultural reasons plainly impede the law. Come to think of it: Comiles is still in operation since the case was dismissed due to “lack of probable cause.” In his persistence, Wartenberg promised in his report that the case would be taken to High Court under a new Baguio lawyer. According to Ms. Ivy Buenaobra of the AKF, Wartenberg will be coming on March 8 to follow up cases such as this.
Favour and legality
Comiles continues to operate in Marcos Highway and in Camp 7. Why does the city government tolerate such business? As mentioned earlier, the system of ordering dog meat was discreet; the dishes were given only upon request. When asked about her boss and the supplier of dog meat, an employee refused to reveal their names. Mang Louie is one of the male-majority customers satisfied with their dog meat dishes— from the dog head to the “spare” parts.
As Wartenberg stated in his report from the National Meat Inspection Board (NMIB), dog meat was not acceptable for human consumption. What do the local health experts from the Department of Health- Cordillera Administrative Region (DOH-CAR) have to say, considering that they may have cultural bias as they are based in the Cordilleras, a culture-bound region?
Mrs. Roselle Bani from the Information, Education, and Communication Center claims that there is no rabies in dog meat if already cooked. Rabies Awareness Coordinator Dr. Shelly Aral also says that dog meat consumption is “acceptable” due to IP culture. Surprisingly, she also takes up the AKF’s claim about “the (dog’s) virus being eliminated in the cooking process as scientifically incorrect” as “not true” by saying that the policies against dog meat focus only on the welfare of the dog. She stresses that rabies can be acquired through handling fresh dog meat, especially with open wounds, and not through ingestion.
The local health experts seem to favour the practice of dog meat eating. But does favour entitle legality? License Inspector II Peter Balinag of Baguio City Hall confirms that Comiles Eatery is licensed. Yes, Comiles is an establishment with a “license to engage in business.”
A “license to engage in business” is simply a business permit that requires the following:
- mandatory requirements of Baguio City government: sanitary permit from Baguio Health Department (BHD,) barangay business clearance, sewer certificate from CEPMO, and fire clearance
- national requirements: BIR clearance, SSS clearance, PhilHealth certificate, PAG-IBIG
- other requirements appropriate for the business
- requirements for the sanitary permit include health certificates from BHD and Health Services Office (HSO) and completion of the Food Handlers Orientation (schedule: Mondays 1-5pm, Wednesdays and Fridays 8-12am)
It seems that the sanitary permit is the only relevant requirement for the case of Comiles Eatery, being a restaurant that serves exotic meat. The Food Handlers Orientation is the only prerequisite to a health certificate for the documentation of the sanitary permit. It looks as if it is an inadequate process, since attending a seminar does not guarantee safety and proper food handling skills.
How is dog meat handled specifically? Are there certain procedures for checking whether a package of dog meat is viable for consumption? No. Mrs. Regina Lapitan of the Baguio Health Department’s Division of Sanitation insists that the Food Handlers Orientation does not discuss dog meat specifically, as it is not their duty to classify meat.
Dogs are not food animals
“Nobody is in-charge of inspecting restaurants serving dog meat because dog meat does not fall under the city government’s classification of consumable meat,” says Dr. Mary Jane Cabradilla of the City Veterinarian’s Office. No wonder the BHD is not duly concerned whether the meat certain restaurants handle are of dogs. The City Vet’s Office is one agency that does not favour the sale of dog meat such as that of Comiles.
In contrast to the statements of Dr. Aral and Mrs. Bani, Dr. Cabradilla claims it is possible to acquire diseases, not only rabies, from eating unhealthy dogs.
Interestingly, Dr. Cabradilla calls the Animal Welfare Act as a weak law because it only focuses on live dogs (eg. transportation). She sees Comiles as “safe” from being confronted because the driver or the owner of the vehicle carrying the dogs is the one who gets sued, not the one being supplied. In a raid conducted by the NBI and the Political Animal Lobby (PAL) with Mel Alipio on several restaurants, Comiles Eatery denied that they served any dog meat dish. Dr. Cabradilla was taken back when she heard that Comiles still serves dog meat. She assumed that the employees were warned beforehand about the raid.
The city government officials are aware of the laws; however, the faulty implementation of the policies on dog meat lies in the inadequacy of the laws. The suppliers of dog meat will continue to trade as long as Comiles Eatery continues to operate and to be tolerated by government officials and health experts due to the laws. These laws, especially the Animal Welfare Act, do not specifically target or cover dog meat. The only kind of meat that can be inspected are the consumable meat, or “food animals,” which are cattle pigs, goats, sheep, poultry, rabbits, carabaos, horses, deer and crocodiles as stated by the Animal Welfare Act.
There should be amendments of the law that would include inspections in restaurants that serve meat that do not come from food animals. By then, even those who sell dog parts and just not the “whole dog” must be punished since the parts do not belong to a food animal.
Inspections conducted in the restaurants seem to be only on the sanitation of the area, and not on the dishes sold. How will the people be assured that the dog meat is safe from diseases, aside from rabies, with these kinds of inspections? What if the dog meat served in Comiles Eatery has “gudgod” like what Mang Louie said? And why does the welfare of the dog end in its death and not when it’s in parts? The least that can be done for now is to have the food handling checked, since by now not everyone can be convinced that the dog is not a food animal. Until Mang Louie and people like the mayor start to be disgusted seeing man’s best friend served on a platter, dogs will forever and ironically be chased. #