In Tacloban City, photos of a man riding a leatherback sea turtle, locally known as pawikan, recently went viral on social media. Telling from the photo, the turtle was about six feet long and three feet wide. The photo also showed the the turtle was tied to a bamboo post, and this made netizens go ballistic.
It appears the man riding the turtle is Jose Lastimado, the former village chief of Pinamitinan and president of the Association of Barangay Councils or Marabut, Samar. And perhaps uploading on his Facebook account six photos featuring such a scene, last August 6, will come down as one of the most regretful things he ever did in his life. A hell storm of enraged comments and reprimands immediately bat-tered his post, titled “Big catch pawikan in Brgy Sta Rita Marabut Samar (sic)”.
According to a report by lawyer Danilo Suarez of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) community environment and natural re-sources office in Samar, the leatherback turtle was caught in the fish net of a certain Jessy Amora, about one kilometer away from the shoreline of the village, on Aug. 5 around 1:30 a.m. The officer-in-charge of DENR’s Conservation and Development Division, Corazon Horca Makabenta, said the turtle was released back to the sea “after the DENR took photodocs and measurements at 11 a.m. in the morning that same day.”
Through her Facebook account, Makabenta also thanked the public for their “expression of concern and support.” She said the person who “maltreated” the turtle would be charged with violation of Republic Act 9147, or the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act.
It did not take so long afterwards before Lastimado had deactivated his Facebook account.
The leatherback sea turtle (Dermocheleys coriacea) is considered an endangered species here and elsewhere in the world. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) describes it as the “largest of all living sea turtles and the fourth largest modern reptile behind three crocodilians.” Adult leatherback sea turtles can reportedly grow to as long as nine feet and weigh an average of 300 to 500 kilos. Data show that the larg-est leatherback sea turtle ever recorded had a length of about 10 feet and weighed 916 kilos.
*Published in print version (Voice of the South, Volume 12, No. 8)