20 July 2011


What is this country coming to, if even the humble tukô becomes the subject of an NBI investigation? Not the tukô, per se; but, rather, a scam involving its capture and trade.

When I was a teenage kid growing up in what really used to be an off-road sleepy town, the tukô – or gecko, as it is known in English – was left pretty much to do what lizardy things it had to do.

I am sure it is a cultural thing – American kids keep geckos as pets – but we Filipinos – or at least those of my generation – seemed to have a natural aversion to cold-blooded creatures. I mean, kung walang macho sa lumilipad na ipis, the same was true and still probably is with the pumatak na butikî – especially if it landed on one’s neck or bare arm.

As kids, we were told to stay away from geckos – they held on tight to your skin and would not let go. Hence, the expression kapit-tukô. The gecko, therefore, was respectfully allowed its own space.

Not that we needed any more persuasion to stay away from it. In the old days before this place really embraced urbanization, the nights were deathly quiet and the stillness was only periodically pierced by a cricket calling to its mate or – if it was a rainy night – the croaking of a bullfrog.

If there was a resident gecko in the tree nearby – or, worse, up in the kisame – its loud vocalization in the quiet of the night was enough motivation for any young kid to grab the kumot by its edge and pull it over his head with alacrity. First comes this sound as though the poor thing has something stuck in its throat, attempts to clear it with a gargle then lets fly with this hair-raising sound from which, I am sure, the gecko got its local name: toooo-kô!!!

Just to drive home the point, in 1983 in my first-ever STRAA outing with a football team, lights out had come and all the boys had lain down on their folding beds. Our room was quiet but for the even breathing of the boys. Suddenly, the silence was pierced by the call of a gecko that, as it happened, resided just behind the backboard under which a row of my players slept.

In one seemingly choreographed move, sabay-sabay nagbalikwasan! It was comical!

So what is the big to-do with the tukô these days?

Well, as far as I can discern from all the muddled – and sometimes downright ridiculous – television and Internet reports, there is a burgeoning – if illicit – trade of this poor lizard that during my youth everyone just left pretty much to itself.

There is a belief in certain quarters – apparently fuelled by scammers hoping to benefit from the gullibility of people – that an enzyme that is found in the poor gecko’s liver is supposed to be medicinal. The enzyme is said to be a cure for a wide range of diseases like HIV, cancer, asthma and tuberculosis.

You can probably throw in a hundred more diseases and it will not make much of a difference. For as long as there are suckers in this world, there will always be those who will be willing to rip them off – and happily so!

There is this gecko grower down south who feeds his geckos five times a day and even injects them steroids so that they would grow bigger than the average house pet. All together now: Huh???!!! Bakâ buhatin s’ya ng tukô at itapon sa balon!

As it happened, the poor sucker was supposed to meet up with a buyer who was prepared to pay – do not blink! – one million for two geckos. The buyer was probably scared off and did not show up. Hence, the grower had to let the geckos loose into the woods. Tsk! Sayang ang steroids!

Just to get things straight: the DOH says that there is no scientific basis to any claims being made by scammers that the gecko enzyme is indeed medicinal. It can even be poisonous, if anything; or so the DOH says.

There is also the aspect of legality. The collection and trading of geckos without a permit, says the Department of the Environment, is actually punishable by a 4-year jail term along with a fine of up to PHP 300 thousand.

People are not easily deterred, of course. Instead of being wary, the trade has even gone into Facebook. Albeit, there is naturally bound to be black Pinoy humour in the page. Take a look at the picture below posted on the Tukô sellers’ page:

In the comments box, somebody said: “Ako meron din… tukâ… meron ‘yung tukâ ng manok ko…”

Naturally, somebody could not help but comment underneath: “Korny mo!” (Wrong spelling not mine!)

On the wall, one young lady asked if anyone was willing to buy her geckos. One gentleman asked: “Matindi ba kumapit ‘yung tukô mo?”

The exchange was irresistible to another, who just had to say, “Dapat ang tanong magkano ka at matindi ka bang kumapit?”

The young lady finally caught on that she was being the victim of sexual repartee and dismissed both with: “Mga ulol! Tukong ina n’yo!”

My word, the utter lack of sense people will indulge in just to get their hands on a fast buck! I say leave the poor geckos alone! Sustukô naman!

For Lack of a Better Word




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