In conflict with law; the Asocena Doctrine

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Quando aliquid prohibetur ex directo, prohibetur et per obliquum – What cannot, by law, be done directly cannot be done indirectly.

For the past days, our office was approached by numerous of students asking guidance on their thesis. Their studies vary from documenting traditional customs like; dispute settlements, marriage solemnization, to the usage of traditional medicines and other culture related practices. One sticking research study however left me scratching my head.

Four graduating students from the University of the Philippines – Baguio came to our office wanting us to direct them to places in Cordillera who practices dog meat consumption. In their research they want to document the level of awareness of dog meat consumers in Cordillera to special laws prohibiting the consumption of dog meat. To them, they see that our special law namely RA 8485 on known as the Animal Welfare Act of 1998 is ineffective to Indigenous Peoples specifically here in the Cordillera and that dog meat consumption, to Cordillerans, is being tolerated.

I asked them what made them concluded to that observation, and they enumerated numerous restaurants here in Baguio and LaTrinidad that serve dog meat dishes. For one, they are not wrong. For a dog meat consumer like myself this is juicy truth that is hard to swallow. But let’s argue the contrary shall we.

Dog meat consumption in the Cordillera is a customary practice to its natives. For instance, in the ritual called “daw-es” or the indigenous practice of cleansing, dog plays an important role for the rituals completion, Basically, dog is the main ingredient for the ritual. It is viewed that dogs have the purest spirit that is appealing to the gods. Dogs that are slaughtered and eaten by each family member will protect them further misfortunes.

Customs and law are often interchanged but they are differentiated differently. Basically, laws are those which are written; principles that are reduced into words and enacted by congress. Customs on the other hand are defined as those unwritten, spontaneous, and comes from society. It is spontaneous because these may be done impliedly, unconsciously or instinctively.

In Article 11 of the Civil Code of the Philippines it stated that “Customs that are contrary to law, public order or public policy shall not be countenanced”. Here, it poses the question does the practice of “daw-es” contrary to law, public order or public policy? The answer here is a resounding no. Not even RA 8485 or the Animal Welfare Act of 1998 can cease the IPs of Cordillera in practicing “daw-es.”

In fact, in the Animal Welfare Act it recognizes the traditional customs of the IPs as an exemption rather than a prohibition, to wit:

The killing of any animal other than cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, poultry, rabbits, carabao, horse, 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 ritual required by ethnic custom of indigenous cultural communities: however, leaders shall keep records in cooperation with the Committee on Animal Welfare

Undeniably however, selling dog meat as dishes being sold at restaurants are prohibited by law. Clearly, selling dog meat for mere commerce is beyond the bounds of the exemption laid down in RA 8485. In this circumstance, it is now a different story, and the one engaged to such trade cannot invoke Article 11 of the Civil Code or RA 8485.

But how about those who patronized such trade, like the consumers? What if the consumers are IPs? Here, regardless of race or ethnicity, indigenous or not, consumers and traders are not within comforts of the exemption of our laws. Generally, dogs are not considered food animals under the Food Safety Act of 2013. This now predicates that dog meat are not “meat products” thus are beyond the commerce of man.

However here in Baguio and other neighboring municipalities, it is an “open secret” that dog meat trade and consumption outside customary rituals, is tolerated. Here now enters the canon law, me and friends dubbed the “Asocena Doctrine”. An exemption in the exemption in dog meat consumption that is not written within the texts of our laws but it is planted deep within the realms of rationalization of the locals in the region.

Here, in Baguio and other neighboring municipalities, “neutral territories” in forms of restaurants and bars stand for dog meat aficionados to take pleasure in. Our laws prohibiting dog meat consumption [somewhat] does not apply in these places. It is only in Baguio where you’ll see law enforcers, law legislators, agents of law like lawyers, foreigners mostly Koreans, local and neighboring residents, regardless of race, age and gender, all gather in one table and feast on the prohibited meat. Law books and handcuffs get brushed aside when inside these “neutral territories”. This irony extends also to our city’s veterinary hospital. Where else in the country do you see their veterinary hospital situated in place called Slaughter – the city’s butcher shop?

Going back to the principle of law “Quando aliquid prohibetur ex directo, prohibetur et per obliquum,” this tolerance is frowned upon and should be dealt with extreme prejudice of the law.

But the dog meat consumption, traditional or for mere typical dining, has become, specifically to the latter, culture that is already infused in our consciousness. And while we wait for the non-traditional dog meat consumption to harmonized within the ambits of our laws, the Asocena Doctrine prevails. Attach to it is a warning; it holds no legal force so Invoke it at your own risk.

By Rocky Ngalob