Vote for Sharks
  By Elson T. Elizaga

Philippine newspaper columnists and cartoonists often compare sharks to anything perceived as corrupt, criminal, and evil. This custom appeared to have been started by The Independent in 1917, with an editorial cartoon showing a shark representing "embezzlement."

Almost a hundred years later, despite new discoveries about shark behavior, the practice continues. Teodoro C. Benigno of the Philippine Star (Jan. 28, 2000), described Macau businessman Stanley Ho as a "gambling overlord with the dentures of a man-eating shark". Benigno, however, stopped making similar analogies in succeeding articles, apparently after the Star published my letter of complaint.

Editorial cartoon, The Independent


Editorial cartoon of The Independent, Jan. 13, 1917. Source: Alfred McCoy and Alfredo Roces, Philippine Cartoons (Vera-Reyes, Inc., Philippines, 1985), p. 124.


But on Oct. 22, 2000, the Philippine Daily Inquirer ran an editorial cartoon showing several animals, one of which is a Hammerhead representing "crony corporations". Ironically, the Inquirer claims to be working with the World Wildlife Fund.

Editorial cartoon, Philippine Daily Inquirer


Editorial cartoon of Philippine Daily Inquirer, Oct. 22, 2000.


The practice of comparing sharks with alleged criminals is unfair and promotes ignorance about these magnificent sea creatures. Sharks, like other animals, eat because they have to, not because of criminal intent. When aroused by curiosity, they cannot use their hands to investigate; they have to bite. When provoked, they cannot use foul language; they have to attack.

Also, among the 350 species of sharks known so far, only about 10 are considered dangerous to man. And these sharks don't feed exclusively on humans. Research indicates that the Great White lunges at surfers lying on board because the surfers look like silhouetted seals. So, the ambushes are most likely due to mistaken identities.

According to the International Shark Attack File, "In most instances, these [shark attacks on humans] probably are cases of mistaken identity that occur under conditions of poor water visibility and a harsh physical environment … A feeding shark in this habitat must make quick decisions and rapid movements to capture its traditional food items."

So, while the number of shark attacks on humans are relatively small and accidental, human attacks on sharks are systematically industrialized. Fishermen dismember millions of sharks every year, slicing off their fins and dumping the wounded animals back into the sea. This cruel, bizarre ritual is performed regularly just to make shark fin soup.

The impression that sharks are evil in recent years is largely due to Steven Spielberg's classic movie "Jaws". But Hollywood animal "monsters" are usually lesser than the human evil that produces or ignores them. Evil in "Jaws" was tourism for the sake of profit. Evil in "Jurassic Park" was reckless genetic engineering. And evil in "Anaconda" and "Godzilla" were the homicidal snake hunter and nuclear pollution.

Philippine Star editorial cartoon showing shark caught in a net


Latest recycling: Editorial cartoon of The Philippine Star, Feb. 18, 2002. ("Pentagon" is a kidnap-for-ransom gang in the Philippines.)


Unfortunately, the messages of these movies are so subtle that most Philippine viewers couldn't see them. So, not only sharks and crocodiles are used to represent human wrongdoing and condition, but also snakes, cockroaches, spiders, octopuses, scorpions, vultures, bats, and rats. On Dec. 6, 2000, Inquirer columnist Neal H. Cruz wrote: "… Snakes -- and yes, rats -- are still plentiful in the Philippines … They are plentiful in Malacañang and Congress where they cavort with crocodiles …."

Jose L. Guevara of Manila Bulletin (Dec. 8, 2000) repeated the statement: "DENR chief Cerilles launches drive to save local snakes. They're plenty in Malacañang and Congress. Don't touch them."

Cynical jokes like this are recycled endlessly by Philippine political writers. And many readers continue to be influenced. During a 2001 political rally held against former President Joseph Estrada, for example, demonstrators displayed Godzilla and a crocodile to represent the president and his alleged cronies.

Such demonstrations are welcome, but the method is boring. My advice: Take a break and watch Discovery Channel. See if there's a crocodile breaking his political promises or a shark stealing money from the people.


Facebook photo and comments showing Joseph Estrada, Rodrigo Duterte, Gloria Arroyo and Imelda Marcos
  • Netizens describe as "crocodiles" president Rodrigo Duterte, Imelda Marcos, and former presidents Joseph Estrada and Gloria Arroyo.
  • Shark fins off the menu at top hotel -- CNN, Nov. 22, 2011
  • "There are three sharks caged under the pool of Dos Palmas resort. Unfortunately, even if they are not caged they will never eat the Abu Sayyaf terrorists. You know why? Professional courtesy." -- Richard Gordon, Secretary of Tourism, The Philippine Star, July 4, 2001



Published December 7, 2000. Layout revised December 7, 2003. Link to CNN report added January 17, 2012. Updated September 21, 2017. Send me Philippine cartoons showing prejudice against animals.

  Home | Email