Whales as symbols of life, death and hope

By: ATTY. DENNIS GORECHO - Columnist/CDN Digital | February 01,2023 - 09:00 AM

Whales are associated with compassion and solitude, and knowledge of both life and death.

Whales play special roles in the history and culture of Cadiz City in Negros, Occidental as it is called the City of Whales.

Various murals of whales are scattered on walls of schools along with the centerpiece of the fountain at the city plaza.

Its annual festival “Dinagsa” every last weekend of January was coined after an event that occurred on May 7, 1967 when several whales were stranded along the city’s shores each measuring at least 40 feet long and eight feet tall. Dinagsa came from a Hiligaynon word “dagsa” meaning to gather together, driftage or to come in groups.

A year later, notorious pirates surprisingly attacked  Cadiz on the Dec. 31, 1968.

The city’s version of Ati-Atihan festival begun in 1972 in honor of the patron saint Sto. Nino de Cadiz whom the locals believed to have created miracles protecting the city from the invading pirates. It was only in 2002 that the festival was called “Dinagsa”.

The Ati-Atihan street dancing competition basically had the common elements of whales, pirates and Sto.Nino. Ati-atihan means ‘making like Atis,’ that is, pretending to be like the aboriginal natives that once inhabited Negros.

The “Lamhitanay sa Dalan” is one of the unique features of Dinagsa wherein everyone in the street merrymaking smother latex paint on each other’s faces.

With the kaleidoscope of colors, one will be a human canvass of the other festival revelers. An old painting of Moby-Dick still hangs in our house which I consider as my first encounter with whales.

It was in my literature class at the University of the Philippines (UP) that I made a review of the book “Moby Dick or The Whale” which  is an 1851 allegorical classic novel by American writer Herman Melville.

It narrates the quest of Captain Ahab of the whaling ship Pequod for vengeance against Moby Dick, the giant white sperm whale that crippled him on the ship’s previous voyage. There have been a number of adaptations of Moby Dick in various media including the first production in 1926 as a silent film called “The Sea Beast.”

A two-act play by Orson Welles was staged from June 16 to July 9, 1955 in London that starred Christopher Lee.

Some interpret the whale as the powerful force of nature, which humans have long battled and tried to conquer. For Captain Ahab, the white whale symbolizes all that is evil in the world, and therefore, it must be destroyed.

The international coffee chain Starbucks got its name from a character in Moby Dick  —  the first mate who was the only man aboard the who resists Ahab’s plan to devote the ship’s mission to hunting and killing the White Whale. To Starbuck, the whale would provide oil like any other whale as his line of thinking is that nature is there to be exploited for profit.

In the Extraordinary Attorney Woo Korean drama, the main actress loves whales. It follows the story of Woo Young Woo, a lawyer with autism spectrum disorder, working at a large famous law firm. The drama depicts her growth as she solves cases using her remarkable memory and outside-of-the-box thinking.

Rather than a lightbulb, whales occasionally appear via her imagination to bring her comfort or when she has a “Eureka” enlightenment  moment.

Her autism characteristic has brought her to a certain fixation with whales as they are able to freely swim in the ocean without any limitations.

Whales also became entangled in the landmark case oddly labeled “Resident Marine Mammals of the Protected Seascape Tañon Strait et. al. V. Secretary Angelo Reyes et al.”(G.R. No. 180771 April 21, 2015).

Collectively referred to as the “Resident Marine Mammals”, the petitioners are the toothed whales, dolphins, porpoises, and other cetacean species, which inhabit the waters in and around the Tañon Strait, a body separating Negros and Cebu.

They are joined by  environmental lawyers of Oceana Philippines as their legal guardians and as friends (“the Stewards”) who empathize with, and seek the protection of, the marine species.

Environmental lawyers insisted that the oil exploration harmed the animals and most of them had moved to another location.

The Supreme Court ruled that oil exploration, development and exploitation of resources by Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. Ltd. (Japex) in Tañon Strait was unconstitutional by violating laws like the National Integrated Protected Areas System act of 1992.

The Court also ruled that the whales and other sea mammals had no legal personality to sue— however, citizens can sue in their behalf. 

The lawyers said that the ruling should serve as a reminder to national agencies to perform their mandates of environment protection, and also protect the rights of the people. This should also deter them from ecologically destructive acts, especially in protected areas like Tañon Strait

(Peyups is the monicker of Philippine Collegian. Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)

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