Mind da News: Turtle’s Humanity

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/05 December) — A MindaNews article last November 20, “Wounded ‘pawikan’ begged for help –fisherman”, by H. Marcos C. Mordeno, showed turtle’s humanity with man. Another story 37 years ago showed turtle’s humanity to man.

In Mordeno’s story, fisherman Lowid Elgo in Barangay 10, Buenavista, Agusan del Norte was rowing his boat to shore in early morning of November 19 when a pawikan, the Bisaya word for sea turtle, swam alongside his boat and tapped the boat’s side with its flap when repeatedly shooed away. Elgo sensed it was asking for help.

Elgo loaded the turtle in his boat. On shore, an elderly man who was among the crowd that gathered around the pawikan flipped the turtle on its back. There were two wounds on the turtle’s underside. Elgo said it “tapped the bigger wound with its right anterior flap” – like a wounded man pointing to his wound.

A barangay employee “poured antiseptic medication on the wounds”, so went Mordeno’s story. Personnel from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources were called to determine whether “the turtle needed additional treatment”.

The turtle “asked” for help; help was given – a human touch story of turtle and man.

Mordeno’s report immediately recalled a turtle’s humanity to man that happened in the open sea far offshore Zamboanga del Norte 37 years ago. The “man” was a 52-year-old woman from Cotabato City – Mrs. Candelaria Villanueva, the wife of our co-worker in the Notre Dame Press.

The story in brief:

Mrs. Villanueva with her daughter and two sons were on their way to Iloilo City aboard the interisland boat m/v Aloha when the boat caught fire and sank in the open sea off the coast of Zamboanga del Norte at dawn of June 2, 1974. While drifting away from her children, a giant turtle surfaced alongside her. She climbed on the turtle’s back – her “life boat” until her “turn over” to RPS Kalantiao 48 hours after.


The story in Bulletin Today:


Since Mrs. Villanueva did not return immediately to Cotabato City after the incident, we got her story from a report in the June 20, 1974 issue of Bulletin Today (Manila Bulletin) 16 days after her rescue that we published on June 22, 1974 in The Mindanao Cross.

The Bulletin Today’s story from the National Media Production Center was based on the first-person report of a Coast Guard officer, Lt. (sg) Cesario F. Mana during a national safety seminar in Iloilo City. Mana’s ship, RPS Kalantiao, “received” Mrs. Villanueva from the turtle on June 4, 1974.

RPS Kalantiao was on the second day of its search and rescue operation when its crew sighted Mrs. Villanueva “clinging to what had seemed to be a ‘huge oil drum’.” When the ship had drawn close enough, a line was thrown to Mrs. Villanueva.

Mana said, “The moment she transferred her hold on the tie-ring, the drum sank. We did not realize it was a giant turtle until we started hauling up the old woman. For the turtle was beneath her, apparently propping her up.”

The turtle acted more than by instinct but with apparent foresight. “The sea creature even circled the area twice before disappearing into the depths of the sea, as if to reassure itself that its former rider was already in good hands,” Mana said.

Of Mrs. Villanueva, Mana said that she “talked wildly for sometime about how she had drifted away from a teenage daughter and two younger sons because of the swift water current. But she kept quiet on the episode with the turtle, giving some the impression she did not believe it ever happened at all”.

From Google:

Two excerpts from Fortean Times’ collection of mysteries and strange phenomena supplemented our present feature. Fortean Times compiled its story about Mrs. Villanueva from News of the World, 28 July 74; Knoxville [Tenn.] News-Sentinel, 24 June 74; Minneapolis [Minn.] Star, 26 June 74; Daily Mirror, 24 June 74. The wire services must have interviewed Mrs. Villanueva in Manila.

One excerpt said that Mrs. Villanueva, in a lifejacket, had been afloat for more than twelve hours when a “giant sea turtle appeared beneath her and supported her until her rescue by the navy vessel Kalantia (Kalantiao). A smaller turtle climbed on her back and bit her every time she felt drowsy and was in danger of submerging her head in water.  After her rescue, the bigger turtle circled twice before taking off.”

 The second except was a reiteration of the first excerpt and a digest of the Bulletin Today story except that it described the head of the turtle to be “as big as that of a dog” and Mrs. Villanueva herself was quoted: “The small turtle bit me gently every time I felt drowsy.  Maybe it wanted to prevent me from submerging my head in the water and drowning.”


The turtle knew the danger the woman was in; it did what was humanly possible until final rescue came. (Patricio P. Diaz, General Santos City, patpdiazgsc@yahoo.com)