Animals over environment?

Tartanilla is the Filipino version of a horse-drawn carriage. They were “The King of the Road” in the Philippines back when carriages were still the major mode of transportation in this country.

Over the years, the tartanillas dwindled in number after gas-powered, smoke belching automobiles were invented. In Dumaguete City, I think there are now only two karteros (tartanilla drivers) who continue to trot their tartanillas on the city streets.

But this is a dying industry as it’s mostly just tourists who choose to ride them, and even that is far and few in between.

Silliman University, ever so concerned with climate change, in August presented to the public their prototype of a modern, eco-friendly tartanilla that is “powered by grass, not by gas.”

Silliman University’s prototype of an eco-friendly modern tartanilla. (Rachelle Nessia PHOTO)

This tartanilla, unlike the ones my ancestors once rode in, is fitted with four smaller wheels (the original carriage only had two big wheels), a roomier carriage, and disk brakes.

The university partnered with communications giant, Smart Communications, Inc., to produce this prototype. Smart funded the project with P150,000 while the university provided the brainpower courtesy of one of its own drivers and staff from its Buildings and Grounds Department who developed the prototype.

According to University President Dr. Ben Malayang, this is a work in progress. He pointed out the need for a “diaper” or poop-catcher for the horse. Sometime during the program, the horse pissed on the road (this was inside the campus) and by the time the pastor was blessing the carriage and the horse, the strong smell of horse piss was already in the air.

Dr. Malayang also said that the university will issue a set of guidelines to protect the welfare of the horse. Some of what he mentioned during our interview with him was a three-hour limit for the horse’s working hours, no using of whips, and proper veterinary care.

The university’s goal for this project is to show to others that this is an environment-friendly idea that can possibly be explored to spur tourism in the city. The modern tartanillas that Silliman will produce will only be used within the campus, like giving free tours for the university guests.

Now, I’m all for projects that will help save the environment and reduce carbon emissions and all that. But the animal-lover in me is eyeing this one warily. Should this catch on and the tartanilla industry be revived, I worry for the horses. Even if guidelines are issued, how to make sure that they are strictly being followed by the karteros?

If government employees can beat a dog to near-death, a student can kill a cat and brag about it, or a dog be strapped to the back of a moving SUV, then anyone, even karteros, can easily treat horses with the same cruelty.

In my opinion, animal welfare is not high in the priority list of lawmakers. Should this project be pursued commercially, a local law must first be enacted that will make it a crime when the horses are neglected or abused.

I have to admit: I’m an animal-lover first, and environmental advocate second.

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