Department of Agriculture coddling illegal cockfighters on Guam?
Updated: Jan 14, 2022
By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
The Guam Department of Agriculture is condoning illegal cockfighting on island despite the federal ban that has been in place for more than a year, the Animal Wellness Action said today, identifying an employee who is an alleged lynchpin of the illegal sport.
AWA is seeking federal investigation and subsequent charges against Ken San Nicolas, the department’s commodity inspector, who is allegedly engaged in underground cockfighting while holding a position of power.
At today’s virtual press conference, AWA released a video clip showing a man identified as San Nicolas at the center of the cockfighting pit.
AWA president Wayne Pacelle said the video, which he said was provided by the group’s informant, was taken from a June 2021 cockfight in a clandestine cockfighting venue in Yigo.
" A prosecution is needed to send a message to the cockfighters that staged animal fighting cannot continue. The footage of Mr. San Nicolas provides ample evidence to federal law enforcement officials," Pacelle said in an email.
Besides his active presence in the cockpit, Pacelle said San Nicolas operates behind the scene.
Throughout his five-year employment with the department, San Nicolas has approved the entry of 11,323 fighting animals into Guam, Pacelle said at the virtual press conference.
The ban on transporting fighting birds to Guam has been in place since 2002, and became a felony in 2007.
“We are calling on the Department of Agriculture to terminate the employment of San Nicolas, who is engaged in this unmistakenly illegal act,” Pacelle said. “Any law enforcement officer involved in illegal cockfighting is troubling to me."
The AWA president said Agriculture Director Chelsa Muna-Brecht was equally responsible for the perpetuation of illegal cockfighting on Guam by “rubberstamping” the shipments of roosters intended for the fighting arena.
“The director has a direct role in approving these shipments,” Pacelle said, taking Muna-Brecht to task for her "disqualifying performance" of duty.
AWA said data revealed that in 2021 alone, a total of 2,138 fighting animals were shipped to Guam, "far exceeding the total numbers of birds shipped in either 2019 or 2020."
“By keeping the supply of these animals, the Department of Agriculture is facilitating illegal cockfighting on Guam. This is government corruption in action," Pacelle said.
In an email, Pacelle said AWA sources have identified two additional cockpits in Yigo, "although they seem to have been quiet after our latest series of actions on Guam."
The AWA president said Muna-Brecht should either step down as the agency's head or relinquish her authority over the animal shipments to Guam and delegate the task to the territorial veterinarian.
Muna-Brecht did not respond to the Pacific Island Times’ request for comment.
In a press release, AWA identified the top shippers of roosters to Guam: John Bottoms (249 roosters), Bill McNatt (272) of Oklahoma and Domi Corpus (151) of California.
"The shippers typically mischaracterized the shipped birds as 'brood fowl' or 'show fowl' rather than fighting birds in a transparent act of subterfuge to try to skirt the federal animal fighting law," AWA said. "Animal Wellness notes there is no commercial poultry industry to speak of on Guam, and there are no competitions for show birds of any consequence on the island."
The nationwide ban on cockfighting took effect in December 2019. Subsequent attempts to challenge the federal law have failed in the courts.
Pacelle said Guam's elected officials added fuel to the "cockfighting chaos" by lobbying the U.S. government for the territory's exemption from the cockfighting ban, invoking cultural tradition.
In December, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a federal court's ruling that upheld the U.S. Congress's authority to prohibit cockfighting throughout the United States, including in the territories. The appellate court’s December ruling was in response to the lawsuit filed by Guam resident Sedfrey Linsangan.