Animal Wellness Action will be monitoring “everything happening” at Dededo Game Club, where they expect a series of cockfighting derbies to begin on New Year’s Day based on a schedule obtained by the organization, according to Wayne Pacelle, president of AWA.
“I don’t think any of this, if it happens, is going to escape our eyes. And I urge the media to be there. And I urge other citizens to be there to make sure that we ensure the level of crime criminal conspiracies don’t happen,” Pacelle said during a press conference with local media on Wednesday.
The AWA and the Animal Wellness Foundation had tracked the growing number of bird shipments to the island using records from the Guam Department of Agriculture, which they claim was the illegal shipment of birds from fight for cockfighting activities. The head of the Ministry of Agriculture disputed this claim.
But about two weeks ago, AWA announced it had secured a “secret schedule” for cockfighting derbies at the club starting on New Year’s Day and running through January. Pacelle called on the organizers to “untie their illegal action plan”.
Cockfighting was banned by the federal government in Guam and other U.S. territories just before the end of 2019, following the one-year phase-in period set by the 2018 Farm Bill.
At Wednesday’s press conference, Pacelle said they hope federal law will be properly enforced, but they also believe they and citizens in general have a role to play as “eyes and ears” of law enforcement.
Eric Sakach, animal control consultant at AWA, said people shouldn’t expect to see a bunch of federal agents and officials arriving at The Game Club on New Year’s.
“While I can’t claim to know exactly what their plans are, that would be very erratic. What people should understand is that the federal government tends to be very methodical and systematic in its approach to this type of investigations. Often they will take months of intelligence gathering, surveillance, witness statements, others, on the people involved in these activities,” Sakach said. “We don’t know exactly what’s going to happen on the 1st January or the following days, but I think we can be assured that there is monitoring, investigation, information collected and provided to federal officials on this activity.
Argument from cultural practice
The federal ban was far from well received by everyone in the territories. Residents who view cockfighting as a cultural practice have opposed the ban, which has also been criticized by some officials as an example of the federal government imposing its will on territories without the consent of their people and in defiance of local people. established local laws that permitted cockfighting.
Sen. Jose Terlaje has been a vocal critic of the ban and the AWA, and said Guam has “real crimes” to deal with and shouldn’t commit law enforcement resources “to appease an outsider. that does not even recognize our human rights.”
Despite the federal ban, Guam Law recognizes cockfighting as a cultural practice and prevents its criminalization or punishment under local animal cruelty laws – a provision proposed by Terlaje.
After learning of the planned derbies at the Game Club, Pacelle called on the governor to request their cancellation. But the governor’s spokeswoman said the governor’s stance on cockfighting didn’t matter because the ban is federal law to be enforced at the federal level.
Pacelle said he never asked local police to enforce the federal ban because it must be enforced by federal law enforcement. But he asks that local officials and others emphasize the importance of obeying the law.
“Use your platforms as elected officials to say you disagree with federal law – that’s absolutely their prerogative. But not to encourage disobedience of law and violation of the law,” a said Pacelle.
The local law recognizing cockfighting as a cultural practice has no legal effect and only creates moral and legal confusion, according to Pacelle, who said he believed that was what the law’s promoters were trying to achieve.
“And I think that’s wrong. These lawmakers take an oath to the Constitution… They shouldn’t choose the laws they urge citizens to obey or disobey,” he added.
The debate is settled
As for arguments about the lack of territorial representation on the ban, Pacelle said territorial delegates participated in the debate and “their arguments were found to be unpersuasive” to federal lawmakers.
“The legislation was overwhelmingly passed. It wasn’t close,” Pacelle said, adding that challenges to the ban had also failed in court.
Addressing Terlaje specifically, Pacelle said the senator can say the federal ban shouldn’t exist and violates people’s rights, “but those issues have been addressed.”
“They’ve been settled in Congress and in federal courts. I don’t know what else to tell him. Now all he’s doing is encouraging illegal activity. And he’s potentially putting people at risk s ‘they think they’re somehow going to get some kind of immunity because Guam knowingly passed this little provision to say it’s a cultural right. It has no legal effect’ , Pacelle said.