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A World Record Crocodile & The Record of Philippine Society & Politics

"Lolong", the 20 (?) foot crocodile caught in Agusan del Sur this September, believed to be the largest living saltwater crocodile.  Photo from AP

"Lolong" from another angle.  Just look at the size of his/her tail!  Photo taken from  global voices online.
The 13.7 foot crocodile caught in Palawan last July. Photo from GMANews.TV

"Cassius Clay", the 18 foot crocodile in Australia, currently the "largest" crocodile in captivity. photo from www.telegraph.co.uk

We have so little knowledge about our pre-colonial culture.  
We are only mostly aware of our identity as Spanish, American and Japanese subjects.  The Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas (commonly referred to as "Sucesos" for brevity)  is one of those rare documents where we can learn about our dignified and proud past long before subjugation.  It is peculiarly interesting because it is one of the earliest written histories of of the Philippine Islands published in 1609 by Antonio de Morga, a lawyer and high-ranking colonial official.  Our national hero, Jose Rizal himself wrote an annotation of this book because of the valuable information it contained about the condition of the Philippines at the early period of Spanish colonization.  Rizal's annotations aimed at making us proud of who we are and what we already were before the Spaniards came.

Among the wealth of information in the Sucesos are details on everyday practices, human relations, slavery, boat-building, pottery-making, etc.   It also mentions animals like crocodiles.  The following paragraph describing crocodiles is taken from chapter 8, page 119 of an ebook of the Sucesos produced by Jeroen Hellingman:

There are many very large scorpions in the rivers and creeks, and a great number of crocodiles, which are very bloodthirsty and cruel. They quite commonly pull from their bancas the natives who go in those boats, and cause many injuries among the horned cattle and the horses of the stock−farms, when they go to drink. And although the people fish for them often and kill them, they are never diminished in number. For that reason, the natives set closely−grated divisions and enclosures in the rivers and creeks of their settlements, where they bathe. There they enter the water to bathe, secure from those monsters, which they fear so greatly that they venerate and adore them, as if they were beings superior to themselves. All their oaths and execrations, and those which are of any weight with them (even among the Christians) are, thus expressed: So may the crocodile kill him! They call the crocodile buhaya in their language. It has happened when someone has sworn falsely, or when he has broken his word, that then some accident has occurred to him with the crocodile, which God, whom he offends, has so permitted for the sake of the authority and purity of the truth, and the promise of it. 

What can we get out of this single paragraph?  Imagine the great number of these animals hundreds of years before modernization and the growth of the Philippine population occupied most of their natural habitat. Their activities and victims are the same as today -- humans and livestock.  Imagine the fear they strike  among the great majority of the population, especially considering that the population of the islands used to thrive along rivers and coasts prompting Morga to write (page 118 of the ebook)  that all the natives can row and manage all the different kinds of boats that the natives built.  (I may write about the great boat-building and managing capabilities of the natives of the islands in a future post.)  If all the natives could row and manage these boats then surely most, if not all, of them lived in fear of these animals.


Morga's writing, aside from reminding us of the fear that these crocodiles create and the pride that we have of their existence, also reminds us why crocodiles or the buwaya became metaphors for politicians.  As Morga writes, these animals are:

1.  Great in number
2.  They are very blood-thirsty and cruel
3.  They quite commonly pull from their bancas the natives who go in their boats
4.  They cause many injuries
5.  That although the people fish for them often and kill them they are never diminished in number
6.  That the people fear them so greatly and venerate and adore them, as if they were beings superior to themselves.

In short, crocodiles represent a lot of things that politicians are generally known for.  They are the opposite of true statesmen and public servants.  No matter how our current president pushes for a "daang matuwid" (righteous path), they are so difficult to hunt and eliminate because of their sheer number and mastery of their environment.  That the more these pre-historic reptiles breed and pervade the rivers and swamps of Philippine society, the more they continue to pull Filipinos down from the insecure boats they are living in; and the more injuries they cause to the Philippine economy and peace in general, and to the lives of private individuals specifically.

It is also interesting to note that in reference to crocodiles, people fear them so greatly and they are venerated and adored, "as if they were beings superior to themselves."  Don't we, or at least a great many of us, look at politicians as people superior to ourselves rather than as public servants paid by our taxes; that we allow them to live above the law and allow them to rule over our rivers and swamps without questioning why they need to drive in cars with special license plates, among other self-benefiting legislation?

God demands righteous leadership.  He cares for all people on this earth that is why He prescribes how leaders should behave and how He will force political leaders to take account for their ways.  If this country is truly a Christian country then her leaders should take heed and obey without ifs and buts, without thinking of their own benefits.  Written at the end of this post are some Biblical passages that reveal how God abhors the evils of unjust and greedy political and judicial leadership, evidence that God is very much interested in the everyday dignity and quality of life of every individual.


Another interesting thing about crocodiles and Morga's description in the Sucesos is the fact that early Philippine natives also looked at crocodiles as instruments of God -- that God, when offended, permits crocodiles to cause injuries, such as when humans swear falsely or when they break their word.  In other cultures such as ancient Egypt, crocodiles were worshiped as gods due to their vicious nature and the fear they breed in, and the fertility associated with, the river Nile.  Such is the story behind the Egyptian god, Sobek.

Could God be using our political leaders as punishment consistent with the saying "we deserve the leaders we elect"?

Sobek-Ra (Egyptian god - human body with crocodile head) and Pharaoh Amenhotep III.  Photo from  Luxor-On-Line


The good and the bad,  that is what Lolong and the Palawan crocodile bring to my mind.  This country is full of the good and the bad.  Our goal is to weed out the bad and work for the exaltation of the good.

The crocodiles caught this year in Palawan and Agusan are very encouraging signs of good ecology still in place in some parts of the country, a ray of hope in the battle for the Philippine natural wealth.

May these crocodiles continue to build national pride and awe.  May they also serve as icons that will push us to intentionally work to bring this species of humans commonly called "the traditional politician" to extinction.  The intentional but difficult process can be borrowed from the IUCN categories of "Least Concern" to "Near Threatened" to "Conservation Dependent" to "Vulnerable" to "Endangered" to "Critically Endangered" to "Extinct in the Wild" and ultimately to "Extinct".  The unwelcome fate of the natural world from Least Concern to Extinct took thousands of years.  How many more years will it take for the welcomed extinction of traditional politicians in the Philippines?

The IUCN Conservation of Nature Status Chart

May these crocodiles remind us of the beauty and raw power of nature that God has bestowed upon our country and the gigantic work at hand -- both in the natural and socio-political realm.

The God of the Bible is a God who is active in the world He created.  He cares for all His creation and longs to see them living in dignity and abundance.  He is also Holy.  Consistent with this attribute is His active aversion for sin in all its forms and effects.  The following are some passages against leaders for sins like unjust gain in relation to the offices they hold.  Passages and cross-references are taken from the NIV from www.biblos.com

Micah 7:3 Both hands are skilled in doing evil; the ruler demands gifts, the judge accepts bribes, the powerful dictate what they desire--they all conspire together. -- Micah 7:3

Proverbs 17:23 A wicked man accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the course of justice. 

Isaiah 1:23 Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow's case does not come before them.

Isaiah 5:23 who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent.

Isaiah 32:7 The scoundrel's methods are wicked, he makes up evil schemes to destroy the poor with lies, even when the plea of the needy is just.

Ezekiel 9:9 He answered me, "The sin of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. They say, 'The LORD has forsaken the land; the LORD does not see.'

Ezekiel 22:12 In you men accept bribes to shed blood; you take usury and excessive interest and make unjust gain from your neighbors by extortion. And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign LORD.

Hosea 7:3 "They delight the king with their wickedness, the princes with their lies.

Amos 5:12 For I know how many are your offenses and how great your sins. You oppress the righteous and take bribes and you deprive the poor of justice in the courts.

Micah 3:11 Her leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price, and her prophets tell fortunes for money. Yet they lean upon the LORD and say, "Is not the LORD among us? No disaster will come upon us."

Psalm 62:10 Do not trust in extortion or take pride in stolen goods; though your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

Jeremiah 22:17 "But your eyes and your heart are set only on dishonest gain, on shedding innocent blood and on oppression and extortion."


Update (Nov. 10, 2011):   National Geographic confirms that Lolong is the world's biggest saltwater crocodile at 20 ft and 4 inches

Update (Feb. 12, 2013):  Lolong died yesterday for reasons still unknown. :-(


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