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Looking Back

‘Rat-infested’ debate in 1954 Congress

Academics study all their lives, often building on the extensive research and thinking that went into their doctoral dissertation to develop new research. Some simply mine their thesis to death, creating a niche or area of specialization that they become known for throughout their careers. It is unfortunate that academics have been stereotyped for “knowing more and more about less and less,” because some scholars like Patricio Abinales, historian of and from Mindanao, breaks the mold with his lucid writing and incisive analysis on the most mundane of topics.

In a 2012 article, “Let them Eat Rats! The Politics of Rodent Infestation in the Postwar Philippines,” he contributed to the growing literature on the topic by dissecting the discourse on rat eradication as a mirror of the Philippine state and society at the time.

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Abinales’ article opens with an amusing excerpt from the 1954 Congressional Record that I have yet to locate to read in full. Cotabato Rep. Domocao Alonto delivered a privilege speech on the rat problem in Mindanao that had affected thousands of people, and resulted in destruction of crops worth P3 million.

Cebu Rep. Ramon Durano then took to the floor to interpellate Alonto and asked if Islam treated animals, which included rats, humanely. Alonto replied by citing reports of rats in Cebu, thus leading to this exchange:

“Durano: There are no rats in Cebu, gentleman from Lanao.

“Alonto: Is the gentleman sure of that? […] I think that the people in the Bureau of Plant Industry know what they are talking about, and when they say there are rats in Cebu, there must be rats in Cebu. If there are no four-legged ones, maybe there are two-legged ones.

“Durano: I do not know of any two-legged rats in Cebu, but four-legged rats there are none in Cebu. I am going to explain that to the gentleman of Lanao. Does not the gentleman agree with me that the rats belong to the rabbit specie?

“Alonto: Yes.

“Durano: And that the rabbits are very palatable food, especially in New York?

“Alonto: That is right.

“Durano: And inasmuch as the rats are of the same species as the rabbit, does not the gentleman think that it is a nice idea to teach our people to eat rats instead of dogs?

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“Alonto: Mr. Speaker, I do not know about the people from Cebu.

“Durano: One thing again that I am going to inform the gentleman from Lanao is that during the Japanese occupation, there was scarcity of meat [in Cebu], so the Chinese panciterias caught all the rats and they cooked them with pancit and the people found out that pancit with cooked rats were better than any of those cooked with other meats. Formerly, we abhor eating the meat of the dog, but it has been found out that the dog’s meat is better than the meat of hogs or other meat. So, it is a question, Mr. Speaker and gentleman from Lanao, of adapting ourselves to such a situation indicative of an educated people. So instead of eliminating the rats totally—is that the gentleman’s proposition, total elimination of the rats, which is very dangerous?—it should be made gradually. I wish to inform the gentleman that in Johns Hopkins Hospital there is now a research being conducted whereby they extract a certain substance from rats and inject it into sterile people. I understand it could restore an individual’s vitality.

Mr. Speaker, so if we exterminate rats, the sterile people of the Philippines will have no more recourse in order to produce more people for further development. Therefore, my question, Mr. Speaker, is, is the gentleman from Lanao for an all-out eradication of rats? I understand that it is a very dangerous move to eliminate the rats totally.”

The excerpt above underscores the fact that our legislative records can also be read for history or merriment. Of late, I have been reading Supreme Court decisions from the early 20th century, not for jurisprudence but for history. The cases provide insights into human nature essential to a historian. Some cases, for instance, were filed against hooligans, tulisanes, robbers and highwaymen who turned out to be patriots resisting the US colonial government and fighting for freedom.

Time to start dipping into the Congressional Record and the Record of the Senate.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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TAGS: History, pest, rat, rat eradication
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